The reality of visual journalism

Mary Knox Merrill, Feb. 16

Those who study this industry religiously say it’s becoming more about visuals and pictures than it is about words. Cynics probably would like to charge it’s because we’re growing more illiterate by the second. I, a committed words guy, say it’s because visuals have become so involving. Good pictures, mated to great audio and video, can be grounds for a pretty entertaining presentation.

Take Mary Knox Merrill’s work. As a photographer for the Christian Science Monitor, she covered presidential elections and events that merit standard still photos that would accompany text written by a reporter. But she’s also been able to travel around the world, where interviewees don’t speak English, to document stories with audio and video tied together with her pictures.

“Even if you’re a writer, you have to learn to take pictures, you have to learn to take video,” Merrill said, because people want a “full-viewing experience.”

Merrill said her time in Congo documenting gorillas was challenging because of language barriers when filming the park ranger and his family. And she couldn’t get a lot of footage of the gorillas. The post-production for extensive projects like these are also gruelling.

“You kind of know what you have when you come back, but it’s not easy,” she said.

That’s typically the problem with lavish multimedia projects like Merrill’s gorilla work, another one of cyclists in the Gran Prix of Gloucester for the Christian Science Monitor, or Amy Silva’s artificial intelligence/political science intersection explanation for Northeastern’s External Affairs department. The work needed to make it attractive, as well as well-reported, is extremely intensive.

But making presentations like this for profiles or deeply reported topics is, in a number of ways, more appealing than a 1,200-word profile and a few pictures. It’s so much easier for a viewer to be captivated by the story. If done well, there’s so much multimedia journalism can convey. And who knows? With practice, that production process could get a lot faster.

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