ASSESSMENT OF READERS PERCEPTION OF THE USE OF PHOTOGRAPHS IN NIGERIAN NEWSPAPERS
Photographs in news stories can stimulate opinion change, either making a reader love the good advertised, or making the reader hate it. In view of the foregoing, this study sought to ascertain an “Assessment of Readers Perception on the use of photographs in Nigerian Newspapers. The population of this study in Enugu metropolis was about 123 but 119 readers participated in the study. The objectives of the study were: To ascertain if the use of photographs in Nigerian newspapers contribute to attracting attention of newspaper readers in Enugu Metropolis; To determine if newspaper readers view photographs in newspaper as space fillers or as aid to readers’ understanding, To ascertain if newspaper readers view photographs in newspaper as aiding credibility to stories or they are used for aesthetic appeal. The survey research design was adopted for the study; data for the study was sourced from primary sources, while data was analyzed using simple tables, frequency percentage. Source Credibility Theory was used as a model of analysis. The study found out that readers have different reactions to written words and pictures that are displayed on Nigerian newspapers. It was subsequently recommended that proper training be given to journalist to enhance their competence in the field of practice, placement of photograph should represent the idea contained in the text and the Nigerian Press Council (NPC) should investigate obstacles to the flow of information on print media, ethical and professional standards in the media must be upheld.
1.1 Background of the study
For many years, photography has played an increasingly important role in the various media of mass communication that use visual messages to disseminate information (i.e. books, newspapers, magazine, film, television; and the internet – based media) (Ijeh, 2015). Photographs have been known to greatly stimulate public interest in current events and human angle stories presented by the visual media of mass communication, and have also made tremendous contributions to the civilization and advancement of mankind (Ezekiel & Ezekiel, 2007).
The power of photographs in mass communication stems from the common knowledge that photographs are more powerful than words in message dissemination hence the dictum; “A picture can speak more than a thousand words”. This is because photographs speak a universal language and are better able to elicit the same emotions from people on different sides of languages and educational divides (Ezekiel & Ezikiel, 2007; Fasheke 2004).
In addition to creating a greater emotional response, photographs are used to capture a reader’s attention to an article. Visual images are the gateway to a news story. Communication professor at the University of Oklahoma, Michael Pfau, claims that people do not merely pick up newspapers and magazines and start reading. Rather, they look at them, check the headlines and photographs to determine which stories they would like to read (Pfau, 2006). In previous research, eye-tracking software has been used to determine which articles are read first, proving that a reader begins their perusal of a newspaper drawn to the most striking features – typically the headlines and photographs. According to (Pfau, 2006), readers are more likely to view a photograph, first before reading a text. However, he noted that combining both text and photograph makes it three times more likely that at least some of the text will be read. He also noted that previous research with an eye-tracking device has also proven that readers are drawn to larger photos over smaller ones, and color images over black and white versions.
To the general public, photographs are deemed as credible sources of information. Viewers are more susceptible to believe images that they visually see, rather than what they hear or read (Pfau, 2006). Photographs tend to be taken at face value, exactly for what they represent, while a photograph and text seems to be less credible because “readers sense that the words are authored, but the image is a true representation” (Kepplinger, 1976).
Conversely to Anderson 1989 cited in (Kepplinger, 1976) argues that, “though the photographic image may have powerful visual impact, it does not have the ability to give any in-depth explanation of the event it presents to a world eager to be informed. It cannot tell what happened before or after an event; it cannot give political or social context, much less an analysis. The camera does not know which of the events it captures are historically significant and which are not. As John et al. (1989) have noted, a photograph is time frozen, a moment yanked out of its before and after” and therefore requires an added textual analysis to accompany an image (Andersen, 1989).
According to Eunson (2008), a “stand alone” picture refers to a single photograph, with a caption that describes its content, published on a newspaper or magazine page whose other text or picture content are not related to the photograph in question. Here the photograph with its caption tells a story alone and not in any way related to other news stories on the same newspaper or magazine page. A picture is said to be accompanying a news story, its images and captions are directly related to a contiguous text of a newspaper or magazine news report. In this case, the photograph is used to support the story text. “Picture – based” news stories sometimes refers to panorama of photographs on newspaper or magazine pages. Here, sets of pictures that present different aspects of a particular subject, event or phenomenon are printed on dedicated newspaper/magazine pages with no textual report. The set of photographs, with the aid of their captions tell the story.
The newspaper is one of the largest users of still pictures. In this contemporary digital media space where all the media of mass ,communication (both offline and online) compete for audience and readership; pictures have become a veritable asset for these media outlets. This competition has necessitated and propelled newspaper to become more innovative in their use of photographs to attract and sustain readership. While some schools of thought argue that pictures aid readership of newspapers, others argue that they are irrelevant and make little or no impact on readers. It is therefore imperative against the already established background to ascertain reader’s perception of the use of photographs, specifically in the Nigerian Newspapers.
1.2 Statement of the Problems
Visuals can have a dramatic impact on a reader’s involvement and feelings towards an event or issue. Images on newspapers have a powerful impact on readers’ attitude and understanding, and this impact and understanding cannot be created by text alone. In a news context, the presence of a photograph can significantly affect the consumer’s attitude towards the framed issue. While some readers might perceive pictures in newspapers as a support for the texts, others perceive it as something used in filling up the newspaper and making the pages numerous. To some also, it is just an act which serves to draw attention to a big story and to further illustrate statements made in the story and give the readers’ more details about the information presented.
This study was conceived to ascertain the perception of newspaper readers in Enugu metropolis of the use of photographs in Nigerian newspapers.