The Iconic Image in a Digital Age

Open access


This article investigates selected newspapers’ editorial mediations over contrasting perceptions regarding the significance of a controversial set of ‘iconic’ news photographs, namely images of Alan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian refugee, whose drowned corpse washed ashore in September, 2015. Specifically, this study examined individual editorial items, published by leading Danish, Canadian and British newspapers over a four-month period, engaging with and reflecting upon this imagery. Our analysis revealed several key deliberative features of editorial self-reflexivity, with three especially salient themes shown to be emergent across the coverage: a) instantaneousness and historical photographic precedents; b) social media’s perceived influence on photojournalism; and c) normative associations of affective qualities for this imagery. By elucidating these features of editorial self-reflexivity within a convergent digital media ecology, this article offers original insights into how and why the epistemic values governing visual communication are being reconsidered and redrawn under pressure from institutional imperatives.

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