Handbook of Independent Journalism (5) : Editing The Story

Photo captions also have a different purpose from headlines. Instead of summarizing content the way a headline does, a caption helps the reader appreciate what’s inside the visual frame.

The photograph and caption together form a small story that the reader can understand without having to read the text of the story that accompanies it.

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Captions should clearly identify the main people in a photograph. If several people are featured, it’s often helpful to let the reader know that the central character is the one “wearing a cap” or “standing on the right.”

Captions should not repeat the exact wording of the headline or lift a sentence directly from the story. And caption writers don’t need to spell out what can be seen clearly in the photo.

“Carlos Fernández smiles as he gets off the plane” is a less effective caption than: “A jubilant Carlos Fernández returns from 15 years in exile.”

Most captions are short, just one or two lines in small type. But on occasion, a newspaper or online site will carry multiple photographs with longer captions in a photo essay that tells a complete story.

Longer captions can use quotations from the people pictured.

Graphics and Visuals
Newspaper reporters sometimes resent the use of graphics because they take up space, forcing stories to be shorter.

But good graphics add to the visual appeal of the newspaper, attract readers’ attention, and make stories more understandable.

They help reporters’ stories, rather than take away from them. As newspaper designer Ron Reason puts it, graphics are “information, not decoration.”

Every graphic must have a purpose. Filling empty space or airtime is not a sufficient reason for using a graphic.

A graphic should enhance the reader or viewer’s understanding of the story, which means the editor must fully understand the story before designing or choosing a graphic to go along with it.

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