Editors, Don’t Let Art Directors Do This to the Reader

The University of Wisconsin alumni magazine has an inviting cover story, “Madison Revisited: See, do, and eat what the UW’s hometown has to offer in 36 hours.” Having enjoyed my four years in Madison, sometimes attending classes while working as a bartender, I looked forward to seeing and reading about what Madison is like now.

The story has 15 color pictures, all inviting, and I was curious what the pictures showed, who the people were.

Where were the picture captions? On the first layout, the six captions were ganged on that page, with the dreaded clockwise from left followed by bare bones information on what the pictures showed. On the next two spreads, one with five pictures, another with three pictures, the captions were ganged and hidden among the type on the opposite page. Again, clockwise from left and bare bones information.

As interested as I was in the pictures, I didn’t even try to look at each picture and search for the caption. It would be easier to do the Wednesday New York Times crossword puzzle.

Magazines are printed on expensive paper so they can publish good photos and art as well as words. If you don’t have good pictures and art, you don’t need expensive paper.

Good pictures and art stop the reader: Look at this, doesn’t it look interesting? The reader then would like a caption with the picture that explains what’s in the picture. And if the caption writer is smart, the caption also will make the story seem worth reading.

I’ve fought this battle with art directors, many of whom like clean design and are tempted, as this magazine was, to run pictures and hide the tiny captions. If the editor is in control of the magazine, there should be no hide-the-caption design.

The second battle, after location, is when the art director presents a layout with room for bare bones captions. No, the editor should say, we’re going to write the best, most interesting captions we can and you’re going to make them fit.

You want readers? Publish great pictures and captions to encourage readers not to turn the page, as I did today. I would have read the story if the pictures and captions had made it seem interesting enough.

Isn’t there someone at the UW journalism school who could help the university put out a more readable alumni magazine?



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