A Semiotic Analysis of Newspaper Front Page Photographs

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A Semiotic Analysis of Newspaper Front-Page Photographs
Paul Carter
The newspaper is a form of news communication that presents a display of codes that should provide the reader with information of the world. The medium itself produces signs that the reader can interpret at their leisure without a time constraint, unlike television or radio. This means that the reader can take time to interpret the codes and therefore give the information more scrutiny. News is expressed in a newspaper through linguistic, typographic and graphic codes which are defined by the medium itself. This can be seen in the physical confines of a newspaper affecting the contents and therefore the codes and signifiers used to communicate the stories. As P.Rock explains in 'News as Eternal Recurrence', ‘Policies affecting the layout of a newspaper predetermine what can be reported about the world.’(cited in Cohen and Young, 1981:p.75) Therefore, the confines of the text as a whole influence the news being reported and the codes used in this communication. The selection of what news is relevant is central to the ‘news industry.’ This gathering and reporting produce codes of behaviour that are translated through the presentation of the news in the newspaper. Through a comparison of different papers these codes, related to the photographs and the paper as a whole, will become evident along with the ideology behind the news itself. To explore the use of front-page photographs in newspapers, and the subsequent interpretation of these images by readers, a semiotic analysis of examples would provide a useful insight. However, it is necessary to set the scene of the subject matter under scrutiny. First of all ‘what is a photograph?’ A simple explanation of a photograph is a picture produced through the chemical action of light on light sensitive film. It is a medium of recording reality that is iconic as well as indexical. Although a photograph resembles or imitates something, making it iconic, it achieves this through the use of light from the subject, therefore making it less arbitrary and idexical. In other words the signifier is directly linked to the signified, be it physically or casually. This indexical property of photographs leads observers to make a judgment that a photo is an objective medium of record as there is a smaller difference between the signifier and the signified. However, a photograph is a representation of a particular moment and situation in time. Barthes expressed his view that a newspaper photograph is, ‘an object that has been worked on, chosen, composed, constructed, treated according to professional, aesthetic or ideological norms which are so many factors of connotation.’(cited in Bagnell, 1977: p.98) There are many decisions taken by the photographer such as; focusing, lighting, angle, that produce various representations, and readings, of the same moment creating different connotations. From the choices made from the paradigm sets of these signifiers, and the syntagmatic relationship between them, it is possible to decode and compare the front-page photographs from examples of newspapers. The newspapers that I have chosen to analyze the front-page photographs from are The Guardian, The Daily Mail and The Sun. These papers are interesting to analyze as they represent three different approaches to news presentation, three different ideologies and therefore three different potential reader groups. The Guardian is a broadsheet which contains news stories and articles that are quite detailed. It belongs to a group of papers that are often referred to as the ‘quality press’ which are pitched to readers that want more in-depth news and serious reportage that should provide a more balanced view of events. The Daily Mail is a tabloid newspaper that reports serious news but also takes a subjective angle. It is often associated with ‘middle England’ which refers to the reasonably affluent middle classes. The Sun is a tabloid that takes...
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