Chapter 14
Visual Journalists

Chapter 14 - Visual Journalists

While many people enter the profession of journalism because they like to write and consider themselves "word people," the importance of visual presentation of information in journalism cannot be overestimated. Visual journalism takes in photojournalism, graphics journalism and publication design.

Few things in our culture have more impact than the single, still photograph. Photographs have a way of grabbing our attention and telling a story that stays with the viewer long after we have stopped looking. Capturing such images is no accident. They take time and planning on the part of the photojournalist.

Graphics journalism -- presenting information through charts, graphs, maps and illustration -- is a growing part of the profession. Publications understand that some information is more efficiently and effectively presented through these means than by the paragraph. Many publications are actively seeking people who understand graphic forms and the kind of information that is necessary for their use.

No publication or web site exists without the hand of a designer, someone who understands how information should be presented visually so that the news consumer can see it and so that the news organization has a distinctive look that reflects its goals and philosophy. The best news designers know not just design but also have excellent news judgment. They understand the profession, and at many publications they end up making key decisions not just about design and layout but also about the content itself.

Study questions
  • What are the reasons that news publications should pay attention to the visual aspects of journalism?

  • What is different about photojournalism that distinguishes it from other parts of journalism?

  • What are the qualities of a photo that make it a good picture?

  • What is the "digital revolution" described in this chapter?

  • Describe the importance of the impact of a still image.

  • In general, what is it that designers do?

  • Why is good graphics journalism so difficult to achieve?

Chapter notes

The father of visual journalism. Take a look at some of the pages of the journals of Leonardo da Vinci (here's one). You probably won’t be able to read them (unless you can read Italian backwards), but they are interesting to look at. Leonardo, who lived in the latter part of the 1400s, was interested in many things and studied closely what he observed. He did this by both drawing (pictures) and words (text). To him, both were necessary if he was going to understand what he was looking at. What Leonardo did 500 years ago is not so different from what many visual journalists try to do today – marry words and pictures. The life and work of Leonardo are worth close examination. Here are a few web sites to get you started:
Leonardo da Vinci Museum (
Leonardo da Vinci -- a fun web site devoted to his life and works (
Web Museum: Leonardo da Vinci (

A thought about the printing press. The printing press has been hailed as the greatest invention of the millennium. No doubt, that’s correct. Yet, when you look at the journals of Leonardo, you might understand that the printing press had at least one negative effect. Leonardo seemed to see no difference between words and pictures; he used them both equally well to explain what he saw. The printing press, however, separated words from pictures, elevated the importance of words and lowered the importance of pictures. Words were easier than pictures to deal with and reproduce. It is only now – more than 500 years after the invention of the printing press – that our modern computer technology and software are allowing words and pictures to get back together in the way in which Leonardo used them.

Key concepts and terms

• Visual presentation of information can be as important as words; information and ideas are sometimes more understandable of they are visually presented or if they have a visual element.

Graphics journalist – a person who uses visual forms of presentation; the information the graphics journalist gathers should be suitable for these forms.

• Visual journalism includes graphics, photojournalism and layout and design.

• Visual journalism developed during the latter part of the 20th century in great part because computer technology made it easier to produce.

Design – the general rules that govern the appearance of a publication; these rules include general page format, type font and size, styles for bylines, cutlines, photographs, graphs, etc.

Layout – the day-to-day use of design rules to produce the publication.

Related web
sites for
Chapter 14

American Institute of Graphic Arts

Design Management Institute

National Press Photographers Association

Society of News Design

Society of Illustrators

Society of Publication Designers

Section I | 1: News and Society  |  2: Culture of Journalism  |  3: Becoming a Journalist
Section II  |  4: Newspapers  |  5: Magazines  |  6: Television and Radio  |  7: News Web Sites
Section III  |  8: Reporters  |  9: Reporting  |  10: Writing news and features  |  11: Style  | 
12: Editors13: Editing and headline writing  |  14: Visual Journalists  |
  15: Graphics Journalism  |  16: Photojournalism  |  17: Publication Design  |
  18: Broadcasters  |  19: Writing for Broadcast
Section IV  |  20: Beginnings of Journalism  |  21: Journalism Comes of Age  | 
22: New Realities, New Journalism  |   23: 20th Century and Beyond
Section V  |  24: Law and the Journalist  |  25: Ethical Practices  |   26: Present and Future
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