This Picture is Worth a Very Different Thousand Words

21 May 2006
May 21, 2006
Illustration for a Washington Post article

This illustration for a Washington Post article on social networking conveyed a very different story from the one it was supposed to illustrate.

I’m a visual person and have found my niche in life as a visual communicator. A picture can illuminate and extend the meaning of my words. Image and text are powerful partners.

This morning as I was reading the Sunday Washington Post I was thumbing through the Business section looking at pictures. Along with headlines, this is how I scan the paper every day, using the hierarchy of information to help me decide which articles are important to me. I came upon this illustration for a story on social networking. Intrigued, I decided to read the article.

The piece was interesting. But when I compared the information conveyed by the illustration with the information imparted by the article I did a double-take. The picture communicated a very different story and made me read and re-read to make sure I hadn’t misread.

Mike Campbell went on a blind date through a connection he made on Match.com. At his suggestion they met at a sports bar but his date wasn’t interested in sports and it seemed they had little in common. However, at one point his date began talking about a job at his company and Mike thought he might be interested. The article’s point is that networking can take place even in social situations like this.

But what caught my eye were the details of Mike’s encounter:

Campbell later told a friend about the date, mentioning that this guy sounded like he had a perfect job opening.

Wait, let me read that again: this guy sounded like he had the perfect job opening. Oh. Mike had a blind date with another man. Why was I so surprised? Because the illustration shows a man sitting at a table with a woman: a woman tossing her wedding ring.

The discrepancy between the information imparted by the article’s content and its illustration was so great my attention focused on this rather than the subject of the article (that networking can take place in any social situation).

Add to that the already highly charged social and political context of the meeting (two men on a blind date) and one begins to wonder about the decisions being made by the Post’s editorial staff. Were they trying to minimize or ignore the obvious? In addition, the picture is imbued with its own social context: a woman throwing away her wedding ring while “her date” pulls out his résumé. Does the Post mean to imply that a married woman would easily throw away her marriage for a good job prospect (even the waiter looks surprised)? Why not just show two men at the table?

In either case, the connection between the image and the text is misleading and confusing –so much so that I am writing about this disconnect rather than the subject of the article.

Image and text can be powerful partners. But in this case there are no prospects whatsoever. These two have nothing in common.

5 replies
  1. Donna says:

    With or without the article, I find the illustration odd.

  2. Jeff says:

    Why so, Donna?

  3. Donna says:

    As a cartoon, I had to look at it over and over to try to get the meaning. She’s tossing off the engagement ring that he just gave her (the box is on the table) because he’s pulled out a resume. First thought is that she’s decided against marrying him because he’s out of a job. But her expression suggests that she’d perhaps rather hire him than marry him…? It’s really not clear. And the style strikes me as a bit retro. I just don’t think it works.

  4. Joseph Dombroski says:

    I read the article and stumbled over that same paragraph a few times–I kept re-reading it to see if my initial hunch that the blind date was with another man was correct. It sounded like one of those conversations in which pronouns are purposefully avoided or non-gender specific. The following use of ‘honcho’ to describe the ex-date also led me to believe it was a man.
    In any event, the illustartion doesn’t make any sense to me at all, but it looks nice.

  5. Diong says:

    I have not read the article but probably the woman in the illustration is throwing out the traditional “search for romance and relationship” purpose of a blind date (ring). As you said, the main point of the article is “…networking can take place even in social situations…” , to me the illustration makes perfect sense.

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