Pictures tell a thousand words – but which words exactly?

The story of the freed British servicemen (and woman) presented an opportunity to compare cover treatments across the UK media, especially regarding the imagery used.

  • The Times’s image was quite sombre, showing tight-lipped soldiers with the only female marine dead-centre, staring directly at the camera. There was an unfortunate implication that one of the Iranians beckoning to them had his hand in the ‘gun’ gesture. As with so many ‘moments’ in which for example politicians are caught with supposedly grotesque expressions because they were merely uttering a plosive, or supposedly giving a Nazi salute when in fact they were just scratching an itch, I suspect this was a rather reckless use of a single image.
  • Most of the other broadsheets and tabloids portrayed happy, smiling, waving people. This was in marked contrast to The Times, especially given that the shots were evidently taken from the same angle and distance, presumably from one group of photographers assembled for their release. They told very different stories, one of relief, the other of tension.
  • Finally, the Mail’s treatment was unique in that it showed both: as you panned from left to right the expressions went from happy to pensive. Maybe this told the whole story. Maybe it was just before they waved on cue. Who knows?

I wish I could find examples of the covers from each online, but I can’t.

It shows how image editing – which image to use, how to crop it, what story to tell – is as important, influential and in the final analysis as subjective as the copy supporting it.

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