Guest post: Can you find victory in a cutline?

by andybechtel

Students in my Advanced Editing course are contributors to The Editor’s Desk this semester. They are free to write about whatever they wish, provided that the topic fits the theme for this blog: “thoughts on editing for print and online media.”

This is the fourth of these guest posts. Amanda Johnson, a UNC-Chapel Hill senior majoring in journalism and French, possesses an unusual love for proper grammar, romance languages and competitive sports. As an Atlanta native, she still dreams about Chipper Jones and the ’95 Atlanta Braves.

After the Tar Heels’ most recent victory over the Blue Devils in Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium, I eagerly awaited the next morning’s news stories, photos and videos. I wanted to relive every moment of the basketball game (especially Bobby Frasor’s three 3-pointers). After all, shouldn’t one of the greatest sports rivalries of all time result in the greatest sports journalism of all time?

There were some moments of copy editing greatness, such as the headline in The Charlotte Observer that read, “Once again, Tar Heels are kings of Cameron.” However, in my opinion, copy editors often fell short of greatness when it came to writing cutlines.

First, I found the inaccurate cutline. In her ESPN.com column, Dana O’Neil wrote about UNC-Chapel Hill player Tyler Hansbrough and his dominance at Duke’s basketball court. An accompanying picture carried the caption: “Tyler Hansbrough finished his career 4-0 at Cameron Indoor Stadium.” While this statement is completely accurate, its relationship to the picture bothered me. In the image, Hansbrough appears to be jumping over a Duke player to score a basket. However, those of us who have every play of the game engrained in our memories remember that Hansbrough did not score in the picture. Instead, he was called for a charge, which means that he actually hurt his team’s chances of winning the game in that moment. Ouch.

Next, I found the boring cutline. The Daily Tar Heel chronicled the mid-game and post-game revelry in Chapel Hill with a slideshow. Although the pictures expressed a sense of excitement, the cutlines did not. For example, one cutline said, “A crowd of students watches the basketball game in the Union lobby Wednesday night.” I can tell that from the photo. Cutlines are supposed to provide us with more information. How many students were there? How early did those in front arrive at the Union to claim their seats? How loud did the crowd get? Tell me more!

Finally, I found the absent cutline. A slideshow on the Sports Illustrated Web site documented the game with some fantastic pictures of both UNC-CH and Duke players handling the basketball like only the best players can. The pictures were clear and sharp, but they lacked cutlines. And to me, this was the least offensive of the cutline errors. Because the slideshow was clearly connected to the recap of the basketball game, cutlines seemed unnecessary and, perhaps, would have been redundant. The pictures were so expressive that they probably deserved to be left alone. However, I would welcome the challenge of supplementing the photos with a few words of my own.

So now, I conclude my tale of cutline woes by asking my fellow copy editors to be great. Be great like Tyler Hansbrough at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Make cutlines great or leave them out.

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