‘Best business photos’ make bad clickbait

Fortune's uninspiring list illustrates the limits of the genre

Fortune’s website needs clicks.

That clear from the wannabe-clickbait slideshows populating its recent offerings, like “The Biggest business feuds of 2013,” “5 biggest housing comebacks of 2013,” and “CEOs who will be on the hotseat in 2014 (it’s striking that women comprise half of Fortune’s endangered list, though they account for just 4 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs).

Least enticing of all: “The best business photos of 2013.”

Pity the poor staffer who had to put that one together.

The winners include a not-particularly-interesting picture of the new $100 bills, Tim Cook holding an iPad, and a poor picture of a “road closed” sign in the Badlands illustrating the government shutdown. Rocketing in at number 3 on Fortune’s list: the British royals showing off their new baby.

Business news, alas, doesn’t tend to lend itself to good accompanying art.

“I’ve always thought a word was worth a thousand pictures,” cracked a former Wall Street Journal editor in the ’80s, and in business news, at least, that’s not far off—

That’s why papers run pictures of stock traders with their heads in their hands when the stock market dives and why The Wall Street Journal didn’t run pictures—of any kind—until 1979, when it debuted its trademark stipple portraits. You know, they just don’t hand out Loeb Awards for best business photo.

Actually, let me qualify that a bit. The Loebs last year unveiled a new category for images/visuals. The first winner: A series of interactive chartszzzzzz:

Now the Journal, in contrast to the Fred Taylor era, runs multiple color photos every day on its front page, but it still has trouble finding business-related ones.

Here are the photos it’s run on A1 in the last week: Russian suicide bomb aftermath, NFL quarterbacks throwing footballs, altar boys at the Vatican, Japanese officials discussing Okinawa, kid filling up a generator with gas in icy Maine, kids in snow in Kabul, UPS guy delivering boxes (business story!), woman opening the door to her “party-ready” mansion, blurry view out windshield of car going 55 mph, fancy living room with teepee and bongo, injured woman in Beirut bombing, picture of a half-eaten steakhouse meal, people running into Dorchester Bay for a polar-bear plunge, South Sudanese refugee and child, and today’s octobox People to Watch in 2014, which includes one ostensibly business-related figure, Janet Yellen.

Granted, it’s the slowest business-news week of the year and Rupert Murdoch has repositioned the business bible as more of a general-news paper. I perused a random week in November and it was much the same.

But the Journal is still the leading business-news organ in the country, and the dearth of business-related images shows how difficult business and finance news is to photograph well.

As does Fortune’s unintentionally amusing attempt at clickbait.

(Creative Commons photo on the home page via protoflux)

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,