The unwritten rule that online content must have photos has blurred the line between fact and fiction. Every blogger, every news editor, every website designer needs a visual to complete the story. If there isn’t an original photo to go with the piece, a stock photo with a generic cutline will do.
As a journalist it makes me cringe. I think this reliance on stock photos is the media industry’s biggest flaw. It is going to lead to a crisis of credibility.
Recently, I was watching the Garth Brooks biography, Garth Brooks: The Road I’m On. There are frequent references to the house in Hendersonville, Tenn., which he and his first wife shared with a large number of people (5? 7? I can’t recall) in the late ’80s. On screen, as Garth is talking about it, there is an image of an average brick bungalow. At no time does it say whether this is the actual house, or just a similar house in a similar neighborhood. The filmmakers let the viewer assume this is the actual house Garth lived in with all those other people.
As a viewer, I’m trying to imagine how so many people fit into such a small place. That’s why it matters to me whether this is the actual house or not. But it is now standard practice for filmmakers, journalists, bloggers, and social media influencers to choose any image that illustrates their point without specifying whether the photo is fact or fiction.
When I was taught journalism, this would not have been acceptable. But today, many of the people producing media content are not journalists, and the line between real and fake has crumbled to dust.
About me: After more than 25 years as an editor of trade publications, I’m now learning social media techniques. I’ll be writing about news, communication, social media and travel as I go through this career transition. Please join me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or my blog, and we’ll chat.