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Find suitable art to avoid assault on the eyes

stock art

A smoker holds a lit cigarette. (Washington Post)

Presumably we all want to be taken seriously, but we invite ridicule and waste space by making sure there is “art with every story” even if there isn’t any to use. Business pages are littered with pointless pictures that do nothing to enhance the stories they supposedly illustrate.

The most-common stupid business art is the picture of frantic/worried/anguished/bemused traders on the stock-exchange floor. No matter what the stock market does on  a given day, our friends at AP provide us with these pictures, usually taken by Richard Drew, a 40-year veteran whose body of work is familiar to us all. (I mean no disrespect toward Drew, whose most famous picture, the Falling Man, had nothing to do with the New York Stock Exchange.)

Photographers also fan out to brokerages and other financial centers worldwide to provide us with the same images, day in and day out, of dealers “reacting” to the numbers they see on their computer screens. They are a joke.

Stupider are the building shots that often accompany stories about companies, especially during earnings season. Captions tell us helpful things like “The logo of the Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc is displayed outside the company’s headquarters in London, U.K. and “A pedestrian walks by a Verizon Wireless store on January 24, 2012 in San Francisco, California.

Using a company logo with a news story is worse still. You might as well run a free ad.

Then there is stock art. Such images supposedly draw readers to stories that are considered difficult to illustrate otherwise, but are usually vague, childish or otherwise simple-minded. They, too, are a joke.

Layout people, many of whom are time-pressed copy editors, are always looking for art to break up the gray. They are rarely offered any real news photos to use, so they resort to crap like this.

I’m no Charles Apple, but I have a few suggestions.

  • If you need art, use a stand-alone news photo on the page instead of a clichéd picture, stock shot or logo. You sometimes have to look hard for them, but there are usually business-oriented shots on the wire, often from overseas.
  • Use a picture that shows what the company does. This is sometimes tricky. If you use, say, a photo of an automobile assembly line, at least make sure it’s the right automaker.
  • If you’re handed a stupid picture that requires a caption, and you can’t persuade the designer to use something else, just write something off the story.  There is no need to point out that a logo-bearing building “is seen.”

associated press logoThis just in: Speaking of logos, the Associated Press has a new one. Tom Curley, the AP chief executive, says: “We have world-class content and world-class products and now we have the world-class look to go with them. This new look, from logo to color system, translates to AP’s growing portfolio of digital products and platforms, and distinctively relays our role as the definitive source for news.”

If you say so, Tom.

About the Author

Phillip Blanchard was in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, most recently as a financial copy editor at the Washington Post. Previously he worked at the Chicago Sun-Times and newspapers in upstate New York. He founded Testy Copy Editors, the online forum, in 1992. Follow him on Twitter: @testycopyeditor. Or email Phillip at blanp@testycopyeditors.org.

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