Images of people unwittingly in the news can quickly come to serve as a form of shorthand for their character, accurately or not.
Given the single-screen limit of many online news stories and the short attention span of news consumers, a photograph can quickly shape the tone of a news profile. The #IfIWereGunnedDown trend on Twitter apparently forced the news media to rethink their choice of images of 18-year-old Michael Brown, the victim in the police shooting in Ferguson in August.
I wrote about this phenomenon in more depth in an article in Zeteo: The Journal of Interdisciplinary Writing. I invite you to click on the link and read the entire article, co-authored with Marquette University’s Herbert Lowe, a past president of the National Association of Black Journalists, in which we explore the ways that Twitter and the news media influenced one another in contributing to as well as detracting from balanced and unbiased depictions of the events in Ferguson.
We write: “In this digital news age, when mainstream media editorial staffs awake to a story such as the Brown case, the coverage basics are fairly predictable: An image of the dead teenager is pulled from a social media site. (In an era of endless selfies, the images certainly are out there.) The news subject is branded. Think of Trayvon Martin in his hoodie . . .”