Visual journalists often take photographs of strangers and include them in videos. This interaction between them can be in-depth, shallow or nonexistent. People are usually reactive to cameras. So, tension exits between the ways people want to be depicted and how journalists visually render them.
T. J. Thomson of the School of Communication at Queensland University of Technology in Australia studied how everyday people perceive the experience of being photographed or video-recorded by visual journalists. The author gained access to the visual assignment scheduling platform and visual archive of The Observer, a digital-first news outlet in a Midwestern U.S. city. He then attended 10 events with planned news media coverage. After that, the author conducted 41 interviews to get the perspectives of the subjects depicted visually.
Results showed that people have some expectations from visual journalists. For example, while depicting subjects, a journalist should blend them into the background, interact with the people they are photographing or video-recording, ask the subject for permission prior to visually documenting them, be respectful to the subject(s) they are visually documenting, accurately render the scene, publish a photo of them if the subject(s) were asked for their names and visually feature everyone involved in a group effort.
Regarding interactions between a subject and a journalist, a participant said, “I think it would have been better if the photographer had gotten a little more background instead of just my name. I think an extended interaction between the photographer and subject helps the captions and then the people who are featured in it get a better representation.”
Participants documented visually by journalists at public community events have mixed reactions about the journalist-subject reaction. They said the resulting image or publicity was the most positive feature of the interaction. One participant said, “I liked what I saw published and I forwarded it to everyone. My family, friends liked it as well.” On the other hand, participants also identified some negative experience of being photographed. Regarding caption error, a participant said, “There was a name that was wrong. There was a person with the wrong name. That kind of bummed me out.”
Some participants identified some negative aspects of post-experience of their depiction. They said journalists’ choice of angle and focal length sometimes depicted them as being alone in the frame when they were surrounded by many others. A participant said, “The photo doesn’t really show the number of people. It almost looks like it was a one-on-one meeting and it was more than that. That would be my first reaction. The context isn’t great. It focuses on me and the map, but it doesn’t show that we were interacting with a lot of the public.”
To read the full text of the study: https://bit.ly/2I1fjHb
Thomson, T. J. (2019). In front of the lens: The expectations, experiences, and reactions of visual journalism’s subjects. Journalism & Communication Monographs, 21(1), 4-65.