Sunday May 21, 2017

Enough with the stock photos!

Johnny Simon says it's a shame that uninformative stock photos are chosen to illustrate important stories.

Johnny Simon says it's a shame that uninformative stock photos are chosen to illustrate important stories. (Getty/ CBC)

Listen 7:12

If the recent virus attacks like Wannacry have taught us anything, it's that stock photos used by journalists and storytellers are bad, if not bordering on ridiculous.

At least, that's the view of Johnny Simon. 

Simon, the deputy photo editor for the online publication Quartz, recently took the time to compile some of the comical images used when telling stories of hackers.

"You have either comically over the top visuals of dark people lurking behind computers or then you just have a picture of any piece of any computer equipment ever." - Johnny Simon

He says the problem with these types of stories is that they are difficult to illustrate.

Johnny Simon

Johnny Simon says that the problem with stories about hackers is that the subject matter is often intangible. (submitted)

"In a story of a house on fire or a presidential candidate, you have a clearly identifiable thing that somebody can go out and take a picture of and with hacking it's affecting just about the entire world...and what it comes down to is that it's happening behind closed doors– it's really hard to put a face to a story."

Simon says, in the context of the Wannacry hack and other hacking stories, the photos don't show the reader the potential threat.

"We often default to a lot of the same tropes... matrix guy, green ones and zeros, a hooded hacker... kind of both uninformative and ridiculous imagery that aren't very helpful to illuminate the story" - Johnny Simon

"We should be happy that hackers haven't taken over self-driving cars or have  done something that causes real, tangible harm because it might make for good photos but it obviously will be worse outcomes for everyone else."

But Simon says that bad stock photos aren't limited to hacking stories.

"Whenever there's a story about females in the military in the US and there have been many issues surrounding sexual assault in the military...often it's a similar kind of photo where it's a white woman with blond hair underneath some sort of hat that corresponds with her branch of the military...and that is left to stand in for any woman in the military ever."

"It almost makes your eyes glaze over a story where if you've seen an image once before.. You've seen it before and you wonder how this story is different from other stores and it really makes a lot of stories not stand out." - Johnny Simon

Simon says one good way to go about choosing a photo for a story is to think about who the story is affecting.

"Think about the real life application of what is happening and not just what appears on the screen but maybe where people are actually going to interact with these events."

Click here to see Johnny's original article and examples.