Soon after the Wall Street Journal's founding in 1889, the newspaper distinguished itself through its use of the telegraph. Thanks to imaginative use of the new invention, the Journal became the first newspaper to report from London and Boston.
The dots and dashes devised by Kevin Sprouls, however, transmit information in a different way. The tiny marks, or flecks enable the transformation of a photograph, roughly 3 x 5 inches into a legible portrait of only one-third the size. Sprouls explained in a 1984 interview: "We've had to adopt this style which is suitable for reproduction on a small scale. . . . When you're dealing with something as small as half-column portraits, if you're using lines or anything coarser than just a little fleck of ink . . . it would tend to get very coarse and grainy so the dot is just a very fine way of introducing gradations in tones."
Given the generally small, uniform size of the Journal's illustrations, drawings are easier to read than photographs. As Sprouls observes, for the Journal's purposes, "There is more information in a drawing than in a photograph."
"It looks like they have the Measles . . ."
As with all new visual technologies, it took a little time for readers&3151;and artiststo get accustomed to the new look and technical demands of the Journal's hedcuts. Page One editor Glynn Mapes recalls that "Peopleboth readers and Wall Street Journal stafferscomplained mightily that the technique made the subject look like he or she had the measles. But eventually the fuss died down, and the dots became a trademark."
Artists had to learn caution in interpreting photographic sources through drawings. Some interpretation is inevitable. Artistic license can be dangerous. Artist Noli Novak recalls the flap that resulted from the first hedcut of "an up and coming Russian politician named Mikhail Gorbachev . . . The artist thought somebody stained or spilled something on the photo, so the very first drawing of Gorby did not have the famous birthmark." The omission was quickly rectified. Today artists are careful to check with reporters about whether particular aspects of a subject's appearance-clothing, accessories, or expression-are critical to the story being illustrated. And subjects continue to keep artists on their toesor on their fingerswith changing hairdos, new beards and clean shaves. For more on the changing faces of hedcuts, see "About Face: Business Leaders Change their Images"