Wednesday, September 17, 2003

Captions Part Three Or: When the Tough Gets Going, Clay Meanders

We come to directional indicators.

Yes, the entries about estimating readers’ brainpower and avoiding the blindingly obvious in captions leads to directional indicators. (Snore.) I originally meant to post about this topic alone. But then I started writing -- and here I am, nearly a week later. I still haven’t said what I meant to.

But that will change. Soon. As in the next paragraph.

To the point. Why all the "right"s and "left"s and "center"s? Look at the captions supplied by wire services and photographers. These captions brim with lefts, rights, centers, standings, sittings, gesturings and on and on and on. The writers can't name someone without supplying his or her longitute and latitude.

Newspapers need facts, right? We want to bring accurate information to readers, right? Yeah, yeah, yeah. But we don't tell readers that the sun rises every day. And we shouldn't tell readers person No. 2 is to the right if we've already said person No. 1 is to the left.

If a photo has a woman and man in it, each person with a gender-specific name, why even use a directional?

Can they figure out that Sally is the woman in the picture and Dan is the man? I trust readers on this one. They will assume Sally is the woman – and they will be right. We need not bang them over the head with superfluities.

If the man is named Stacy and the woman Pat, we should tell where they are.

Use this logic for pictures featuring famous folk. If there are three people in a photo, and the one in the middle is the president, we needn't say:

“Tom Dickinson, left, shakes hands with President Bush, center, while George Remmick, right, looks on.”

I would slash the “center” and the “right.”

This expands into the issues I covered in the two previous posts. We have to make assumptions about newspaper readers and their brains. They depend on us to relay timely coverage that explains the world around them.

If readers need gender explained to them, however, I suggest they look elsewhere. If they don't know what the president looks like -- I suppose they can guess.