Screenshot Saturday: Stock Spot News Photos on Breaking News Stories

Last November we noticed the unfortunate usage of a stock image for a breaking news story on the Standard-Examiner’s website. Looks like it was just the start of a new trend. They are showing up every day on, where the apparent decision to have a photo for every story is resulting in stock photos showing up on breaking news stories they have nothing to do with.

Police cars are a favorite:

As are ambulances and fire trucks:

This stock photograph, in all its tilted out of focus glory, pops up a lot:

Then there’s this stock photograph of police crime scene tape, taken who knows where:

These stock images mislead the reader into believing they are seeing the scene. News photographs are non-fiction. Photographs on a news site are supposed to be non-fiction. Illustrations and graphics are different, they deliver information. But illustrations and graphics should not look like photos. The stock images shown here mislead the reader into believing they were taken at the scene, and many are presented with captions that further mislead.

From the Deseret News:

and this (note the caption – that photo was not taken in a Riverton parking lot):

and this (note the caption – that photo was not taken “Saturday in Park City”):

and this:

(They don’t know where the killing, or the shooting (of the stock photo) took place.)

and this:

News outlets could achieve the same result in an ethical way by using graphics for spot news stories instead of stock photos. KUTV is doing it the right way with graphics like these, which convey information without misleading the reader:

Even in today’s difficult media climate, it’s important to remember there are ethical ways to achieve your goals. If you require an image on every story, do it in a way that shows respect for your readers as well as your own historic and important brand. These stock images have no place in breaking news journalism.

Got a screenshot that deserves to be seen? Submit it to Utah Photojournalism by clicking here.

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. No… Stock photos are not the same as file photos. Stock photos are intended to be as generic as possible, yet still conveying a concept and are taken with the explicit purpose of commercial application to be as generic as possible to fit a wide range of interests. Stock photos are images taken by news photographers, for news sources and are intended first and foremost to be news related. A police tape stock photo could show up in a newspaper or a company report or someone’s ad for a new TV show… not news.

  2. Bryan, I think you meant to start your third sentence with “File photos”


    And really, Shutterstock would qualify as micro-stock, considering their extremely low rates.

  3. Swing and a miss Doug. The link you gave has a file photo from a news source- the Associated Press. The KSL and Deseret News stock images are from Shutterstock who sells images created by amateurs for pennies.

  4. Right, thanks for preaching what you feel is right. I’ll continue to use stock/file crime tape pics for crime related stories because no one in the world would be dumb enough to feel mislead that that isn’t the actual crime tape hung up at that particular crime scene. Now just sticking a photo, stock or not in an OTS box is pretty lazy. All OTS’s should be a multi-layered polished graphic but again that’s an issue of design professionalism not misleading the public. TD’s use to stick simple frame grabs in the OTS box back in the day or in smaller markets when having a graphic designer was a luxury but those days are pretty much gone. I’ve even used stock auto pictures for a vehicle that police were searching for because the STOCK picture matched the description but we had enough common sense to say “like the vehicle pictured here”. No one at home would have been confused by saying “gosh the police are searching for a Ford Explorer, wonder why they don’t just talk to action news because they were able to get close enough for an actual picture”. We used stock pics of military jets to help explain military maneuvers. I’m pretty sure no one sitting at home was confused by thinking that that was a photo of the actual jet that flew the actual mission. I could give you tons of examples when stock pictures are perfectly fine and when it is indeed misleading although at my station those instances would be pretty rare. Some minor points in the article but overall I’m not buying it.

  5. Wait a misleading minute here! I thought that this website was specifically about bee keeping because that is what is pictured at the top of this web page. This is totally misleading, totally unacceptable and I’m quite offended at being bamboozled. Photojournalism indeed.

    Free The Bees! Free The Bees! FREE THE BEES!

  6. News Designer, you ought to sign your name. You know, like an adult.

  7. No thank you clever trevor, Free The Bees.

  8. You do realize that you didn’t sign your name to your article. You know, like an adult credible journalist.


  9. I wrote the article – my name is Trent Nelson. At the time this article was published I was the only author on the site, and that’s why my name didn’t appear as the author.

  10. And you’re wrong. It’s lazy and inaccurate and stupid to use stock photos on breaking news stories. I’ll stand by that.

Leave a Comment

Close Menu