You can’t skim a video. I would much rather take 10 seconds to skim an article to see if it’s worth reading than to stop what I’m doing, look for my earbuds, plug them in and sit in front of a video that might take a couple of precious minutes of my time. Yet study after study shows that online video is extremely popular, as is the sharing of photography online. The news media understand this, and even newspapers and magazines with roots in print are depending more and more on video and photos. Here are five reasons why:
1. Imagery Makes an Immediate Emotional Impact
When I flipped through The Atlantic’s 2012: The Year in Photos, the answer was clear about why online images (both still and video) are so prevalent and well-liked. The Atlantic’s collection of photos offers visual evidence of 2012’s Sturm and Drang. Some of these photos have the power to elicit strong emotions about the numerous and horrible natural tragedies that occurred last year. Others make the news about game-changing political upheaval around the world come alive. Yet others document the triumphs of mankind, from scientific achievements to the performances of Olympian athletes. These photos are hard to forget.
2. Images Make the News Real
When I read about the Free Syrian Army clashing with Syrian troops, I can absorb the “who, what, when, where, why and how” of the event. But when I see a photo of a Syrian man crying while cradling his dead son in his arms, one of 34 people killed by a suicide bomber, the emotional pain inflicted by the violence in Syria becomes much more real. This is certainly nothing new: a 41-year-old image of a naked Vietnamese child, running with other children away from the scene of an aerial napalm attack, was credited with helping to end the Vietnam War. It brought the horrors of the war to life better than any words could. The difference between then and now is a matter of speed and degree: the buzz about the 1972 photo was spread by print and television media over a period of days and weeks. Today, it would take only minutes for the photo to go viral and be seen within hours by many millions around the world.
3. Images Motivate People to Act, Creating More News
Online image-sharing technology itself has played a role in empowering people to stand together and take action. No need to carry a camera anymore. A photo or a video can be taken with a cell phone and uploaded to Flickr or YouTube instantly, where it can be seen instantly and globally. The emotional impact of images has motivated people around the world to participate in political protest for the first time. It has moved average citizens to donate money to help disaster victims because of the way it brings crises closer to home for many people. Online images motivate people to take action, and that in turn creates more web traffic to see the images.
Just as these visual social media tools have helped people around the world to connect and share ideas and emotions, they have also helped communications professionals to deliver their companies’ or clients’ messages with greater impact. However, the overwhelming quantity of media images makes it harder to stand out and gain attention, so this is a double-edged sword.
It’s inevitable that I – and others who grew up without computers – will eventually gravitate more to online video. But I’ll also be happy when someone invents a way to skim a video the way we can skim an article to find out whether or not it’s worth the time to watch.