Academic journal article Public Relations Journal

A Graphic Is Worth a Thousand Words

Academic journal article Public Relations Journal

A Graphic Is Worth a Thousand Words

Article excerpt

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is attempting to transform boring newspaper stories about taxes into must-read articles. To help taxpayers digest news articles about tax deadlines, forms and figures, the IRS is using a new tactic this tax season: they're illustrating information found in their press releases with eye-catching graphics.

The IRS has produced graphics on subjects such as undelivered refunds, common errors on tax forms and a tax time-line showing milestones in the tax season.

"Graphics simplify the type of information we need to communicate, and call attention to the story when editors use them in their layouts," said Mike Quinn, a public affairs officer with the IRS.

Quinn said newspapers have been using the IRS' informational graphics in much the same way they use press releases. "They'll either publish the graphics we give them or use the basic design and information to create their own," he said.

The IRS tactic capitalizes on the newspaper industry's affection for graphics--a trend that started in the mid-'80s when desktop computers made graphics production fast and affordable. The rationale is that graphics make ideas and statistical information easier to understand. They also lend visual punch to print publications competing for readers' attention. Whatever the attraction, more editors are looking for opportunities to use graphics.

Column inches increase

The IRS began including graphics with their press releases as part of a study with the College of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of South Carolina (USC), in Columbia, SC. The goal of the study was to see whether newspapers would use graphics that accompanied a press release and how this would affect the play of a story on the page. The IRS provided USC with upcoming press releases over a six-month period. Graphics were created and then packaged with a press release and delivered to papers in the IRS' Southeast service region.

The study found that the amount of column-inch space devoted to the entire package--headline, graphic and story--increased dramatically when the graphic ran with a story. For example, the graphic that ran with a story about undelivered refund checks published in the Charleston Post and Courier added 32 column inches to the total package.

Editors from a broad spectrum of newspapers, from the Miami Herald to small weeklies, printed the graphics alongside stories written from the press release. …

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