28/03/2013 12:42 GMT | Updated 27/05/2013 06:12 BST

The Visual Future of Breaking News

Today's rapidly changing pattern of media consumption is a force which editors and publishers are all too aware of. The ability to showcase stories through a vast array of multimedia platforms is now an essential editorial tool which almost every media outlet is taking advantage of to accommodate their readers' expectations.

It has long been assumed that a picture speaks a thousand words, but today consumers' needs and expectations for content are higher than ever - a picture-led news story is now a given. Last summer, The Sun was the latest outlet to launch a remodelled website predominantly led by content. Other web-based titles, such as the hugely popular Mail Online for example, will regularly use an image to not only lead but create an entire story, catering for the millions of individuals who visit the site daily simply to look at the latest celebrity photographs.

But it is not just rival online media outlets which journalists and photojournalists now have to compete with. With almost 58 million Americans logging on daily to digital engagement platforms, social channels in particular are playing an important role in how images and video content are being used to break news. A recent report on Mashable found that 50 per cent of individuals learned of a breaking news story via social media instead of official news sources. The report also went on to suggest that since 2009, traffic to news sites through social media platforms has increased by 57 per cent. Alongside real-time data, other mainstream sites, including YouTube and popular blogs, are all impacting the way in which media outlets are being forced to adapt in order to retain readers.

Companies such as Flipboard and Summly, which allow you to download their app and customise the news you receive, have been quick to capitalise on this visual consumption. These platforms feed visually-led breaking news to consumers in real time - an idea which we have taken to social media with the recent launch of The Feed by Getty Images, which accesses our API service, Connect, and algorithmically uploads relevant imagery that matches what is currently trending on locally or globally social media.

The rise in 'citizen journalists' who are using their own imagery to break news is also having an effect on the industry. Advanced technology now available on smartphones and tablets is enabling members of the public to capture breaking news on their own portable devices which they can then share with the world. Social media sites have caught on and taken advantage of this growing trend. Today, Twitter is arguably the King of breaking news. The recent helicopter crash in Vauxhall, for example, saw thousands take to Twitter first to see images of the crash taken by passers-by. Facebook has also purposely modified its own layout to make it more image-led by adding easier image-upload functions and large cover photos.

Journalists and photojournalists face more pressure and competition than ever before. My own experience working in multimedia has taught me that today's news outlets must now be prepared to adapt both quickly and continuously. Time Out London's editor-in-chief, Tim Arthur, spoke recently at the Future of Media Summit on how the iconic publication has had to evolve and tailor its publication across all platforms, including crossing the divide into the freemium market. While at first thought this may seem a risky move, the publication has flourished reaching a wider, more engaged audience with deeper dissemination than ever before.

In the early days of media, imagery was a side dish to the article. Today, imagery is front and centre and one could argue plays the role of the headline. Twitter and Pinterest went viral so quickly because people increasingly wanted to digest information more quickly. The 60 second elevator pitch, the 15 second TV ad and the two minute spot for video are all incarnations of this phenomenon. The corollary to having it short and sweet is having it fresh. Consumers have become accustomed to instant information and technology has enabled that speed of delivery on new platforms. It is exciting to see media companies today harnessing technology to evolve their approach to content creation and delivery to meet ever changing consumer habits.