A caption can tell us what we can’t see

trump-russia-caption

Captions are an underrated device in journalism. Used well, they provide a helpful layer of information, a connector between the headline and the story text. Too many captions belabor the obvious, contain errors or omit information.

A successful caption (or cutline, if you prefer) connects the photograph to the theme and content of the story it goes with. It describes the image but also tells us what we can’t see.

This caption on the front page of The Wall Street Journal does that. Here’s what it says:

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, left, and Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, right, share a laugh during a White House meeting with President Trump. The photo was taken by Russia’s state-owned news agency TASS; Wednesday’s meeting was closed to U.S. media.

The caption tells us who is who, where they are and when they met. And it mentions the unusual circumstances surrounding the photograph. That explains the newsworthiness of the image.

One edit: Find a better phrase than “share a laugh.” It’s a tired one to avoid in captions, along with “all smiles” and “looks on.”

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