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Clickbait War: The visual narrative of violence

2024-07-09 09:00:00

"If it bleeds, it leads" is a motto that captures the long-standing relationship between violence and news coverage. However, the news is not just a mirror that reflects reality - the information we see is controlled, it has a purpose, it has to frame the events of the world. During the research week at Cprvinus, visitors were introduced to this concept, among others, in a presentation by Dr. Alexandra Nagy-Béni. Particular attention was given to the visual language used to depict violence in the age of "homo videns", a term coined by media theorist Giovanni Sartori (1997) to describe modern people who are heavily dependent on images for information.
Budapesti Corvinus Egyetem

The lecture began with an examination of the Russo-Ukrainian war, the most documented conflict in history. Participants began with a questionnaire that assessed their knowledge of the war and their first impressions of CNN and Euronews. The students were then immersed in the concept of visual media discourse. It is important to know that news outlets do not simply report events – they frame them using metaphors, particular wordings and, most importantly, visual elements. These visual elements act as powerful tools and shape how we interpret stories.

Of course there are ethical limits to the depiction of violence. News outlets must balance the need to inform with the constraints on the presentation of graphic content. This raises a fascinating question: how can something as ‘undepictable’ as war be portrayed at all? The answer is provided by the discipline of cognitive linguistics, which studies the mental processes of understanding information.

This is where ‘homo videns’ comes in. With the proliferation of social media and online platforms, we are constantly bombarded with images, so even if graphic violence is limited, news reports can convey the gravity of the situation through other visual means. An analysis of coverage of the war between Russia and Ukraine has revealed interesting trends. Many news reports relied heavily on images of politicians, highlighting the highly politicised nature of the conflict. There was also a strong emphasis on the aftermath of the violence – images of destroyed buildings and infrastructure. Although the victims themselves could not be explicitly portrayed, these ‘aftermath’ images activated the news value of the events, creating a sense of empathy and a desire to help.

Finally, the concept of news value was also explored. News channels often favour stories with a ‘human face’, meaning that they connect better with viewers by making the tragedy personal. This often means focusing on the individual stories of refugees or civilians caught in the crossfire.

The lecture concluded with a Q&A session with the students, where everyone explored the complex relationship between news media, visual storytelling and the portrayal of violence in an image-saturated world.

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GEN.:2024.07.22. - 17:24:01