How the Stunning Oil Spill Photos on The Big Picture Impact the Internet News Cycle

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If you haven’t heard of the Boston Globe’s blog entitled The Big Picture, you’ve been missing out on one of the best sites to pop up on the internet in the last 2 years.

The premise is simple — big, solid posts with some of the most striking images taken from news wire photography, put together every few days with a specific theme. The site has become unbelievably popular because of those two reasons — big, great photographs and an expert level of curation. This isn’t just a feed of random AP/Reuteurs images slapped together, like you can find anywhere from Yahoo to Google.


Capturing the Internet Zeitgeist

The best part, though, about the Big Picture is how its photographs can coalesce the public opinion online around a particular issue, or render concrete something that was previously the subject of several disparate news reports and pieces of random video.

For a lot of people, until they see a crisis or a big story summarized on The Big Picture, it’s hard to get that full, powerful sense of the story. I know that’s often been the case for me.


What This Has To Do With Green News

Well, this — until The Big Picture did its multiple, stunning posts on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill (4 so far, available in chronological order here (one), here (two), here (three), and finally here (and four)), the true magnitude of what was happening had somehow failed to affect me.

And because of the way conversation and comment on the internet works, when a widely-visited site posts some stunning, shocking images (which The Big Picture often does), it can suddenly accelerate the chatter around a particular story in a way that, say, a New York Times article used to do (and still does) in the political world.


Kick-Starting Donations

Sure, I don’t have any hard evidence here, but take a look at a site like Tumblr and their response, which was to change the color of their dashboard and match user donations for an entire week. Right in their post, you see that stunning image of an oil-covered bird, and with the speed that photos are shared among people’s tumblr blogs, an image like that can make a big, sudden impact for a lot of people (full disclosure: I do translation for Tumblr).

Suddenly you get a lot of young, intelligent people talking about the issue in a way that never happened before.

Again, while I can’t say that The Big Picture has any empirical impact on people’s perception of the issue, the amount of times I’ve seen that photo of the bird floating around online has made me aware of how crucial these big, impact-filled images are when helping to tell and clarify a story online.

It’s especially important for stories that affect our natural world, and is an interesting testimony to the power of an image (much the same role Life magazine used to play for millions) in 2010.

Photo Credit: Sean Gardner

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