Haiku to Favorite Magazine

Editors love readers.

Art directors seek affection from peers.

Editors need X-actos.
——
Dear Sports Illustrated,

A plea from an old editor who is an admirer: You have wonderful stories and pictures. And unreadable picture captions.

As an editor, I’m convinced that magazine readers turn the page and first look at the story headline (Am I at all interested in this?) and then at the pictures (Interesting photograph–tell me more about it). Then they may decide to invest time in reading the story.

My strategy at The Washingtonian was to preach the twin purposes of picture captions: Tell the reader what’s going on in the picture, and make it so interesting that the reader will want to read the story.

An added rule: One picture, one caption. Try to avoid gang captions—one caption for three or four pictures. Gang captions lead to “Clockwise from upper left” directions to the reader. The designer is making the reader work: Let’s see now, these words go with that picture, these go with the other picture, etc. Readers don’t want to work, they want reading made easy. And it’s very hard to make a gang caption interesting enough to entice the reader into the story.

Your art directors apparently think picture captions are a nuisance: Let’s put the caption in a thin, small sans serif type in a small box. If there are three or four pictures, we’ll still run one small box and challenge the reader to figure out what words go with what picture.

I just renewed my subscription for another year. I love your magazine but I’d enjoy it more if your art directors were as good as your photographers, writers, and editors.

Sincerely, Jack Limpert

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