Truth in newspaper photos

How big was the crowd at the CWB rally I attended Friday on the western edge of Winnipeg?

There were about 200-250 people there, I figured from rough counting I did. So I’d call that a medium deal. It wasn’t small. It wasn’t huge.

About the same number of farmers were at the Versatile Tractor event I went to on Wednesday. But that one seemed to have a bunch more people there, mostly because they were packed into a long, skinny room for much of it. So it seemed brimming over with people. They were crammed in there. But the CWB rally on the edge of Winnipeg was in a gigantic hall, so the crowd seemed smaller. Funny how the physical situation of a crowd affects how you feel about its size and vigour.

And when newspapers run photos of an event, the choice of photo has a big impact on how big it seems to the reader. So as an academic exercise, let me share some pix from the CWB rally and I hope they reveal how the same event can seem like lots of people were there or few were there depending on the framing of the photo. All depends on the situation of the camera and the impact it makes on the reader. The same number seems different from different angles. And since a newspaper will only have room for one photo, that photo will have a big impact on perception. There’s no general conspiracy involved in selection, as far as I can tell from decades of being in this business, regardless of what ignoramus (about the actual functioning of newspapers) Noam Chomsky or the blowhards at Fox News think. But the pix make the biggest impact, and they can be framed differently.

Here are some of the same event on Friday. What’s the truth?

The crowd up close

Same crowd, different angle

Up close

Further back, 30 seconds later

The number of people doesn’t change, but you can certainly make it look different. So now someone on our editing desk will have a tough choice: what, if any, one of these do you use?

I’m glad I’m not making that call, because whatever you use, you’ll be accused of trying to skew the situation.

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