Pretty as a Picture
Volume 21 Issue 18 2013-05-17
Ah, the poor old newspaper article. It just doesn’t get any respect these days. Not only are newsroom budgets shrinking, but readers even protest at pay walls. To top it off, the article form itself may soon be passé, with tiny nuggets of information served up instead—a sort of fact buffet readers can choose from. But is a steady diet of appetizers really as satisfying as a full meal?
This Gigaom article explains the concept. As Mathew Ingram May writes, the traditional news article could soon be replaced by a customizable collection of “small pieces, loosely joined.” The individual components of a story, such as photos or background, would be thought of as assets, with readers able to gather only the components they want.
So if you’re a financial analyst reading a piece on housing markets, you don’t need the newsprint (or pixels) devoted to a primer on how mortgages work. But consumers worried about rising interest rates might need that background to help put things in context.
It’s an interesting approach, one that definitely has merit. There’s a danger, though, in putting those information blinkers on—because it means we could easily miss some important parts of the picture.
We obviously don’t have the time or mental capacity to know every story or subject in depth. After all, we long ago passed the point where it was possible for an individual to know the sum of all human knowledge that had been gathered. There was a time when knowing how to make a fire and do some basic flint knapping meant you had all the bases covered. Today, not even Stephen Hawking could absorb every piece of information out there.
But it’s still important to step back and get the big picture, to skim enough of the pieces—even the ones we think we know—to put events into context.
A good visual analogy can be found at the Google Art Project. It lets you view some astonishing works of art from around the world, and you can even zoom in to microscopic levels, viewing images one small section at a time. For example, take a look at the details on the globe in The Ambassadors.
Zoom in too close, though, and you lose all context. Sure, I can look at individual parts of the picture, admiring them in whichever order I choose. But to get the entire effect, to understand how the individual sections of the image come together as a whole, I eventually need to stand back and gather all the elements into a single view.
It’s the same with most things, articles on current events included. It might help to click on links and explore things in more depth, but we still need to view the whole picture—even if we only glance at parts of it.
And that’s the beauty of the traditional article format. It pulls all, or most, of the elements into a cohesive whole. It shows me the image, the headline, and the background, all bound together into one useful package.
A package that, when done right, can be pretty as a picture.
S.D. Livingston is the author of several books, including the new suspense novel Kings of Providence. Visit her website for information on her writing (and for more musings on the literary world!).
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