Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Amanda Frisken's "Graphic News"

Amanda Frisken is Acting Dean of the School of Arts & Sciences and Professor in the American Studies Department of SUNY College at Old Westbury.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her 2020 book, Graphic News: How Sensational Images Transformed Nineteenth-Century Journalism, and reported the following:
Page 99 deals with a period of transition when daily newspapers moved beyond sensational headlines and news copy with dramatic line illustrations that made the news more sensational. “Illustrations attract the eye, and stimulate the imagination,” according to a young William Randolph Hearst (in 1887), in his bid to boost the visual power of his father’s San Franscisco Examiner. In late 1890, after months of speculation about the Ghost Dance among the Lakota Sioux, daily newspapers around the country named Sitting Bull the central instigator of the movement at the Sioux reservations, at least in part to gin up circulation. Page 99 shows how daily news producers combined familiar characters, faces, and story lines to misrepresent what was happening, even as they pioneered visual journalism.

Sitting Bull was a peripheral figure in the Ghost Dance, but as a well-known celebrity, established in American lore as “the man responsible for the killing of General George Custer,” his image helped make visual coverage easy for the commercial press. News artists far from the scene could rely on souvenir photographs and book plates to generate their line illustrations of the unfolding crisis in the Plains West. Through Sitting Bull’s image and other distortions, the Ghost Dance crisis became fodder for the illustrated dailies, such as Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World and Hearst’s Examiner. In the process, daily news images shaped how people saw the story unfold, separate from text reporting.

Page 99 shows how illustrated dailies sought to maximize their audience through “playbill-style images of characters and settings that delivered dramatic punch.” Distorted images made the dance seem warlike; portraits of Sitting Bull exaggerated fears of indigenous resistance. Eye-catching news images that blurred the line between information and entertainment were effective news “bait,” as Pulitzer saw them. They proved attractive to news consumers – and to the advertising revenue that kept the dailies in business. Before it was technically possible to reproduce photographs in the daily press, sensational news illustrations proved that images were powerful – and lucrative – forms of mass communication.
Learn more about Graphic News at the University of Illinois Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue