What standards does National Public Radio hold its photo captions to?
“Captions are journalism, too,” Federico wrote. “They should be fact-checked and typo-checked. They should be complete sentences that present the who, what, where, when and (sometimes) why without necessarily stating the obvious (i.e., he sits, she waves, they clap). Captions give photos context, telling viewers what’s going on in a photo so they don’t have to guess or jump to conclusions.”
Federico’s post wasn’t prompted by any concerns or questions from readers about photo captions, NPR told iMediaEthics. “Stephanie just wanted to post about this as a reminder to everyone about the importance of photo captions and to make these guidelines available in an easily accessible place (along with some examples of captions),” NPR spokesperson Isabel Lara told iMediaEthics. “Incomplete captions are a pet peeve of hers!”
NPR has a style guide for captions, Federico wrote, pointing out that one difference from the Associated Press’ standards is that NPR requires captions use parentheses instead of commas when saying which person is which in a caption.
On the other hand, when listing locations, NPR staff should match with the AP Stylebook standards for identifying cities and states and their abbreviations. The style guide also reminds caption writers about grammar rules, such as using commas after years, states or countries when they are in the middle of a sentence.
Captions should be brief and “supplement or complement the story,” and follow NPR style guide in giving credit. For example, if the photo credit goes to a photographer with an agency, it should say the name of the photographer, then a back slash and the name of the agency or organization with no spaces (Jane Smith/NPR not Jane Smith/ NPR). Courtesy and handout photos should name who provided the photo and screenshots have to be labeled.
The post about photos was on NPR’s training website, which NPR set up back in November. “We like to make our training and guidelines available to the public as part of our mission as a public media organization (hence the social media desk tumblr, our standards and practices editor’s blog and this training site),” NPR’s Lara explained.
iMediaEthics wrote back in 2012 about the importance of providing accurate photo captions, not just in terms of giving factual information in the caption but also by identifying those photographed. Read our commentaries One Picture May Need a Thousand Words: Occupy Wall Street Photos Don’t Tell the Whole Story and May I Have Your Name Sir? How Important is it for Photojournalists to Ask for Names.
Hat Tip: Ethical Journalism Network