The newspaper is dead. Long live the newspaper! It goes without saying that now, more than ever, newspapers, in their print form, are fighting for their very survival. It is also widely acknowledged that one of the greatest assets a newspaper has is its bond with its readers, and if newspapers are to stand up to the challenges of the 21st Century they need to nurture this bond or perish. One newspaper that does appear to have found an innovative way to build community among its readers is the Australian broadsheet newspaper The Sydney Morning Herald. At this newspaper, certain news stories are packaged in a way that foregrounds a play on words and pictures. This forms an evaluative stance on the news event being depicted and creates an opportunity for the newspaper to bond with its readers over this wit. The photographs used in these stories are also noted for their quality: their striking clarity and composition creating a certain aesthetic appeal. I have termed this news story genre the image-nuclear news story.
Between June 2004 and August 2008, all image-nuclear news stories were actively collected from The Sydney Morning Herald. This produced a total of 1317 stories. A smaller corpus of 1000 stories was logged and analysed in a relational database. Building on social semiotic theories of language and images, this research project investigated the intersemiotic play established through the multiplication of meaning at the interface between words and images in the image-nuclear news story. The analysis also included investigation of the kinds of photographs that are commonly used in image-nuclear news stories both in terms of their news values and compositional/aesthetic qualities. Finally, the project examined the potential effects of this play and use of image for bonding and community building between newspapers and their readers, as well as between readers and the news events.
The findings of this research suggest that the inclusion of stories such as image-nuclear news stories in the news story repertoire at The Sydney Morning Herald can be viewed as encouraging a readership that can pride itself in the knowledge that this newspaper caters to their extensive understanding of the world and to their wit. In turn, this means that this newspaper can establish a very powerful readership profile that can be easily packaged and sold to advertisers. This may also be viewed as an attempt by the newspaper to set itself apart from other news providers, maintaining readership loyalties through this special relationship with its readers, and thus prolonging the longevity of the newspaper amid the ever growing and sometimes fierce competition from other media platforms.