OK, journalists, I have a proposal: Can we ban the words “looks on” from cutlines? Please?
I hate lame words that don’t tell you anything. “Impact” is a peeve of mine.
(Was it a positive impact? A negative one? Big impact? Small impact? “My mom had a huge impact on my life.” Really? Was that because she beat you? Or because she nurtured you? Find a more interesting, more descriptive word.)
My latest peeve is cutlines (or captions) that tell the reader that one of the people in the picture is “looking on” or “looks on” as someone else does something more interesting.
Do we have to tell our readers that? Certainly we have to identify that dude who is over to the side or kind of in the background.
But can’t we just say, “Sitting beside him is John Doe”? Or perhaps we could give the reader some good information.
Instead of: “Store owner Jane Doe recounts the robbery attempt while cashier John Smith looks on.” Let’s try: “Store owner Jane Doe recounts the robbery attempt, joined by cashier John Smith, who called 911/wrestled the robber to the ground/missed the whole thing because he was on a smoke break.” Or can cashier John Smith at least be listening while the owner tells her story?
What got my dander up today was a photo on The Baltimore Sun website of a press conference with new Orioles manager Buck Showalter. Press conferences are tough to shoot and the cutlines are a nightmare to write, as there’s usually no action going on.
Now, I’m not picking just on The Baltimore Sun. I love The Baltimore Sun. I pay to read it in print every day.
In defense of The Baltimore Sun, this photo was taken, processed and posted pretty quickly. And it’s a nice photo — I like the depth of field and the angle of the shot, from off to the side instead of straight-on. Hopefully my morning print edition will have a better caption.
It just reminded me that I see this wording all the time. If you do a Google News search of “looks on,” you’ll see scores of good photos with poor cutlines from all kinds of news organizations.
And this isn’t to pick on photographers, either. Sometimes they write the cutlines that you see in print and online, sometimes they don’t. Often, reporters write them. And certainly editors read them and have the option to send the reporter or photographer back to the drawing board.
My newspaper is just as guilty of having people “look on” as any other news organization. In fact, we might be worse. Perhaps I’ll start a “looking on” tally. I vow not to personally contribute to the tally!
UPDATE, AUG. 3: I was looking forward to reading the print edition cutline with the Buck Showalter photo, but alas, my newspaper did not get delivered this morning.