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research

The reinvention of newspaper illustration

(The characteristics of editorial illustration in an online news environment)

Abstract Thesis Mphil Royal College of Art

Editorial illustration has long been a core part of the visual language of the printed newspaper; these types of illustrations play a small but significant role as a visual partner to conceptual and analytical news articles, as a vehicle for editorial opinion and part of a newspapers identity. Digitalisation has meant that the online edition has now become the dominant format and visuals, as a source of information and design element, perform a key role. However at present there has not been a satisfactory model for presenting and commissioning visuals. For editorial illustration this means that it is barely used and a unique form of reflective and informing communication is left out. Central to my research is understanding the changed parameters in the online news environment and how this affects the specific contribution editorial illustration represents.

The rapid changes confronting today’s news media show similarities with the fundamental changes that confronted the newspaper industry in the late 19th century. The inventions of the halftone printing technology made it possible for photographic images to quickly become the main visualising medium within newspapers, which had a direct and decimating impact on illustration that until then was the only form of imagery. Despite the seemingly all-encompassing grammar of the photography, there remained a need for the visual language illustration had to offer.  Understanding this need will give insight into the specific characteristics of editorial illustration, as we know it today.

In this research I want to define the core characteristics for editorial illustration and place these within the parameters of the online news media, by means of historical research, visual cultural analysis and researching the design and perception of visuals in online news today.  Through a series of digital illustration projects outside- and within the industry context I want to apply and test my findings. With these outcomes I want to argue for the abilities and importance of editorial illustration as an essential visual communication discipline within news media and further the understanding and development of illustration as a field of expertise.

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