Exercise: Positive and negative spin

Brief

Compare an image from a broadsheet newspaper with a tabloid image. If possible, choose two images portraying the same (or similar) person or event. The story you choose could involve race, but it doesn’t have to. The idea of this exercise is to show you how public perception of a person or event can be influenced by the photographic imagery used.

Read the commentary and the headlines to see how the person or event is being portrayed in words, then study the images carefully. For example, look to see whether the images have been cropped differently.

  • Where different images have been used for the same story by different papers, what do you think is the editorial basis for each choice?
  • Is each story positive or negative, sympathetic or sensational?
  • If a reader was just given the headline and the image for each story, what different conclusions might they draw? Or is there no difference?
  • How has the imagery been used to influence/manipulate the reader?Place the images and your analysis in your learning log or blog.

Response

I looked for a topical story in today’s papers (I even bought the Daily Mail and the Sun!) but came up short on anything usable. Interestingly, there were examples of racially-angled stories in the Mail and the Sun (Ramadan affecting exam timetables; British Jihadis) but without photographs. Maybe the newspapers are more circumspect in their use of racially-fuelled imagery, even if the tone of the reporting and editorial text is still noticeably biased?

So I went a little further back and looked at how different newspapers covered the Paris terror attacks in November 2015.

The Guardian

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Left-leaning broadsheet the Guardian went with a scene from the actual incident, focusing on the police response.

Daily Mail

Screen Shot 2016-01-07 at 17.42.15

The more sensationalist Daily Mail (which evidently went to press earlier, given the lower death toll), chose to associate the attacks with an unrelated story from the day before regarding the death of the terrorist known as ‘Jihadi John’.

To the questions in the brief:

  • What do you think is the editorial basis for each choice?
    • Guardian was balanced, respectful and did not jump to conclusions, as befits a quality newspaper
    • Mail went straight to juxtaposing the headline with what would turn out to be an unrelated story, feeding its readership the editorial line depicting Muslims as evil radicals
  • Is each story positive or negative, sympathetic or sensational?
    • Guardian was neutral, balanced
    • Mail was highly sensational
  • If a reader was just given the headline and the image for each story, what different conclusions might they draw? Or is there no difference?
    • Guardian headline and image give a reasonable account of the attacks
    • Mail headline and image imply that the masked figure depicted is somehow connected to the attacks, or that the image is from the incident itself
  • How has the imagery been used to influence/manipulate the reader?
    • Guardian uses the image to support but not editorialise the story
    • Mail heavily implies a connection between the attacks and a tabloid-notorious individual, shown as a stereotypical Islamic terrorist, manipulating their readers with their agenda of racial and religious intolerance

Sources

The Guardian, 14th December 2015

Daily Mail, 14th December 2015

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