Saturday, July 10, 2004

How to write a cutline

A cutline is the caption near a photograph in a newspaper. It informs the reader of who, what, when, where, and why or how about the photograph. Because photographs depict events frozen in time, the first sentence of a cutline is always written in the present tense. Additional sentences can be written in present or past tense depending on a publication's style preferences (I prefer past tense for explanation).

A standard cutline is written as such:

(Noun) (verb) (direct object) during (proper event name) at (proper noun location) in (city) on (day of the week), (month) (date), (year). Why or How.


Dallas firefighters (noun) battle (present-tense verb) a fire (direct object) at the Fitzhugh Apartments (proper noun location) near the intersection of Fitzhugh Avenue and Monarch Street in Dallas (city) on Thursday (day of the week), July (month) 1 (date), 2004 (year).

In our photo department, we're allowed an average of 15 minutes to prep ("turn out") each image. This includes scanning, toning, color corrections and cutlines. If two images are selected at the desk, they expect to be checking cutlines on the completed images in 30 minutes.

In reality, we often have less than five minutes to get the entire shoot turned out. PJ students should work on their deadline typing speed and accuracy before they're covered in water, sweat, mud, blood and smell like an old chimney.

When writing cutlines for portraits, don't get tricky and get in trouble. Write the facts.

"(Noun) poses for a portrait ..."

As long as the original cutline is 100 percent accurate, the PJ has a job the next day. Leave the cutline changes to the section and copy editors. If they wish to change something, it becomes their problem. The correction also becomes their problem.

There is no compassion or understanding extended to neophyte PJs for factual errors in cutlines. Be as accurate as possible on everything known to be a fact. If it's not a confirmed fact, don't include it in the cutline. Phones and Google are ways to confirm facts – use them.

Enough for now,


Bhug said...

Thank you for providing common sense instructions in photojournalism. It makes perfect sense.

Mark M. Hancock said...

Cool. :-)

Bhug said...

Would you mind checking out some of my pics on Flickr and give me a little advice on my cutline info? I found your instructions inspiring.

Mark M. Hancock said...

Send an e-mail. Your profile gave me nothing.

Bhug said...

You can Google me by searching Bill Hughes Gazette and then click on photostream. Thank you.

Henry said...

how much time on average do you spend editing your photos for turnout?

Mark M. Hancock said...

You get between 5 to 15 minutes per image and cutline on deadline. If you overshoot, you could be in trouble because the edit time starts eating your prep time.

Bhug said...

What paper is that for? That should be plenty of time.

Mark M. Hancock said...

The paper is The Dallas Morning News. If you can prep six images and positively identify 16 players by the color of their shoe laces and ankle wrap patterns in less time, then you're good. :-)

Unknown said...

When's the last time you had a typo and why?

Mark M. Hancock said...

Everyone makes typographical errors. I try to catch all of them in my cutlines. However, I sometimes send images too soon. Then, I hope the copyeditor catches any errors I make.
As long as I'm certain each proper noun is spelled correctly, I've eliminated the majority of issues that would require a correction.

M Juned Khan Wazir said...

thank you, but here a question arise that whats the exact difference between Caption and Cutline? Both Caption and Cutline shoul have 5W's and 1H?

Mark M. Hancock said...

Hi Junaid,
Cutline is the name used for a newspaper caption. A caption and a cutline are the same thing.
They should have the 5Ws and H, but it depends on the amount of space allocated. "Why" and "How" don't appear in the first sentence of a cutline. They are often cut for space.

Siji Samson said...

In writing cutline why must the first paragraph be written in present tense?

Mark M. Hancock said...

Hi Siji,
A photograph shows a moment frozen in time. It will always show the same exact moment. Therefore, the first sentence in captions are written in present tense about the moment being seen.
In literature, the same theory applies. A character "says" something (rather than "said") because each time the book is opened, the character says the same words.
Meanwhile, in news reports, real people have "said" quoted material because they can say something different when they are asked the same question in the future.