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From AJR,   June/July 2008

The Big Picture    

Online Exclusive » The Boston Globe’s simple photo blog makes a powerful impact

By Melanie Lidman
Lidman is an AJR editorial assistant.     

Nearly 4 million people have flocked to the Boston Globe's blog, The Big Picture, since it debuted in late May, surprising the Globe that such a simple blog could create such a stir. "The Big Picture" tells stories through photos – giant, dramatic, vivid images that take up the entire computer screen – in the tradition of photo storytelling found in National Geographic and Life magazine, according to the blog's creator, Alan Taylor.

Blogs aren't new. Photo blogs aren't new either. And news organizations around the country have access to the same wire service shots--from outlets like the Associated Press, Reuters, and Getty Images--that Taylor uses for The Big Picture. What sets his blog apart is its simplicity. Taylor lets the photos speak for themselves, one at a time, encouraging the viewer to scroll slowly down the page to take in the images.

The Big Picture represents a promising trend to newspapers striving to draw eyeballs to their Web sites. In fact, it has proved so successful that the Globe is uncertain about how to package it to advertisers, since its audience is too eclectic and international for its regular local advertisers. "Everyone's kind of learning how to handle the success," says Taylor, who has worked at the Globe for three years.

"Every news organization should be taking advantage of online media way more than they do," says Mindy McAdams, a journalism professor at the University of Florida, who linked to The Big Picture on her blog, Teaching Online Journalism. She believes The Big Picture is a step in the right direction for news organizations still rooted in the past. "In a way, the fact that his really simple blog is impressive shows us how pathetic the online news sphere is."

In the introduction to a photo story about the death of a child from malnutrition, Taylor wrote: "Words like famine and crisis describe the situation broadly, but it can be hard to personalize, to put faces to such things."

More than anything, these photos present faces that are impossible to ignore. "Showing a beautiful picture of something really devastating is sometimes a really powerful way to do that," he says.