Thursday, July 31, 2008

Why AP needs courses on caption writing

This is why the AP needs to hold some serious courses on caption writing. Bottom line, as much as we might not like it, newspapers are shoveling captions direct from the wire onto their Web sites (this one was from the Spartanburg Herald-Journal this morning). And boy do I regularly see some AP clunkers.*

Now, I don't get all shaky as some folks do about "Tuesday, July 22, 2008" or "Aug. 1, 2007" (even though it is within a year of publication). The jury's still out on whether we should stick to the old styles on the Web, where something may be seen weeks, months or years later. And here we'd use "July 22" anyhow because it's more than a week outside the publication date, so adding a "Tuesday" and the year don't seem too odd (though my preference, as it is with all online items, is to have an unobtrusive "posted on" line somewhere instead of sticking all that into a clunky sentence).

But the rest of it is an editor's rebuild. It's too big a chunk and it has grammar/usage problems (and, yes, I do believe the that/which distinction is needed here, which means a comma after the first "which" and changing the second "which" to "that"). Try breaking it into two sentences for even better readability:

The Minneapolis skyline rises behind [we can tell it's in the distance] the new Interstate 35W bridge on Tuesday, July 22, 2008. The bridge replaces the one that collapsed into the Mississippi River Aug. 1, 2007, killing 13 people and injuring more than 100.
* (I can't fault the photogs for this. A wire service caption long has been filled with anal details generally not used once published. The reason: AP never knew when a photo was going to be used or pulled out of the archives, so all the excruciating details were there to guard against error. But with digital photos now carrying headers into which all that information can be embedded, AP should clean up its captions since many of them are going right online.)

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