Monday, March 17, 2008

Forbidden verbs never go away

Sometimes you read your major metropolitan sports section and just wonder: How many more times?

Tiger Woods celebrates after sinking a 25-foot birdie putt on the final hole Sunday for the win. (2B)

Jeff Burton celebrates in victory lane Sunday after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Food City 500 in Bristol, Tenn. (7B)

Georgia's Corey Butler celebrates Sunday's 66-57 victory over Arkansas in the SEC final in Atlanta. (8B)

Temple's leading scorers, Mark Tyndale, left, and Dionte Christmas, celebrate upon learning of their matchup against Michigan State in the NCAA tournament. (9B)

MVP Dionte Christmas, left, celebrates after Temple beat Saint Joseph's for the Atlantic 10 title. (10B)

And this one's different, but it's hard to see how it's an improvement:
Mario Chalmers exults after scoring a three-pointer Sunday for Kansas, the top seed in the Midwest Regional. (11B)

In the broad, cosmic, let's-all-procrastinate-with-content-analysis sense, I wonder if the dominance of the "celebrate" photo isn't linked to some sort of broad ESPN-ization of sports journalism. It's no longer enough for games to have the fleeting moments of innate drama that actually make them fun to watch; now they have to be made iconic, and viewers have to be reminded every few seconds that what they're watching is something really special.*

As much fun as it would be to track the change in the modal sports photo from action to reaction, though, that's not the point. The point is that "celebrate" (like all its vile ilk) violates the Basic Rule of cutline writing: Never tell readers what they're seeing. Tell them what they aren't seeing. Everybody in your audience knows what the content of a "celebrate" photo means; they can't see what Mr. Woods just did, or what the basket being celebrated did to the score, or what sort of offense the defense overcame, or how much (or little) Mr. Burton won by. That's golden space under the photo. Spend it on something useful.

* Have you ever turned the closed-captioning on for a Dick Vitale telecast? Try it sometime!



Blogger TootsNYC said...

can we just eliminate the verb in some of these captions? I know we'd be left with a label, a sentence fragment, but honestly, is it that bad?

"Tiger Woods after sinking a 25-foot birdie putt"

(I can tell he's pumping his fist in the air, and I can see the expression on his face)

Let the picture do some of the work.

Oh, and then there was the photo of the scientist with his hand on TOP of a replica dinosaur skull, and the caption says "Scientist holds the skull..." Really, it should have said, "Scientist puts his hand on..." It would have been so much better if the (obviously posed) photo had been given a caption that simply said, "Scientist with skull.."

Honest, I think readers would get it.

12:58 PM, March 20, 2008  

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