Stock images, authenticity and journalism

I was looking at a photo of a local park the other day – actually from a Twitter feed for that particular place – and was struck by how great the photo was. Then something else hit me. Everything was green. It hadn’t been taken recently (you see, we’re going through a very hot, dry spell).

Then I thought of pics of the same place that I’d see online, taken today or recently. They might not be to the same high, pro standards, but they felt… well… real.

And isn’t that much of what we want in our content? That things resonate as real.

It also made me think about how journalism works. Newspapers have thousands of pictures of Harry Kane or Meghan Markle, but they rarely use a stock photo, even if a famous person is in the same place as a previous event. Even if they’re wearing the same clothes (more likely for the footballer than the royal).

The mindset of reportage, about being true to what’s just happened, is therefore closer to the ‘authentic’. That could mean authentic images or all kinds of other content that we hear so much about.

Now there’s a whole other conversation around authenticity, ghostwriting and especially social media. That’s for another time (or see what we said back in 2013, complete with strong divides between journalists and others). But even though plenty of news publications also use stock images, we can’t help but think that those schooled in journalism generally have a better chance of creating work that resonates with readers.

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