NatChat: Cutlines, cutlines, cutlines

Cutlines are one of the most critical pieces of display copy in a paper. Not only have studies shown that art catches a reader’s eye first (and therefore cutlines,) but cutlines can add enough interest to information that the reader will continue on to read the story. Rimmers are responsible for editing and occasionally rewriting cutlines, and designers must ensure that cutlines are given proper play in a publication. With that said:


1. Check to see if the information in each cutline is from the lede (wire photos will often paste the lede directly as a photo’s second sentence.) If so, note it out and type xyxyxyxyxy so the rimmer knows to write a cutline. Be sure not to use words that would pass spellcheck. Also, leave only the amount of space you want filled with cutline.

2. If there are multiple photos and all are by the same photographer, you only need the credit line on the dominant photo. The exception is if a secondary photo is played above the dominant (sometimes with centerpieces), in which case you can include it there as well. The key is to use it one the photo the reader would “enter the story at” first. Now, if you use art on a jump page, you will need to use the credit line again, but the same rules apply as before. Also, if the photo is a file photo, contributed art, courtesy, wire, etc., be sure to put that in the credit line.

3. In multi-photo packages, read each cutline for repetitive information. Often each photo will have a unique first sentence with who, what, when, where, etc., but second sentences will repeat. Be sure the “lede” information (5 W’s, etc.) are only in the dominant photo and that second sentence information does not repeat. If it does, note out the repeated information and leave xyxyxy to show the rimmer how much room they’ll need to fill. Remember, though, not to make cutlines on secondary art too long or you’ll trap the rimmer into repeating information.

4. If it’s a wildart photo, be sure to place styled dummy text for a headline so rimmers can write one.


1. Check the photo credit. Make sure the photographer’s name is spelled correctly, that it’s identified properly as file, wire, etc., In multi-photo packages be sure the dominant has the credit line and others don’t if they are taken by the same photographer.

2. Check names, date/day, geography etc. against the story. Don’t assume the story is right. If information is different, CQ with BOTH the photographer and reporter.

3. In multi-photo packages make sure the “lede” information is in the dominant photo only. If someone featured in the dominant photo is in other photos, they only need a second reference. The exception is if a secondary photo is played above the dominant (sometimes with centerpieces), in which case you can include it there as well. The key is to use it one the photo the reader would “enter the story at” first. Also be sure information does not repeat across photos. If a photo is used on a jump, first references and credits must be used but again avoid repeating information from the front.

4. In wire photos, check the geography for unnecessary state references (example: “Laredo, Texas,” would only need to be “Laredo.”)

5. ALWAYS check every cutline on the page to make sure the cutline and photo match and that you’re editing the correct cutlines.

6. If you need to rewrite a cutline or add different information, choose something from the story that will add context and greater depth of understanding for the reader. It’s important to not treat secondary information in art as fluff.

7. For a wildart photo, be sure the cutline doesn’t just state what’s happening in the photo. Why do readers care about this glimpse into student life? What is its significance? Also be sure to write a 2-4 word feature headline.

8. Be sure if you have to add to or rewrite a cutline that you fill the space set by the designer.

9. In the cutline of a photo with multiple IDs be sure to start from either the left or the subject of the photo and then the left. Directional cues should be encased in commas after the person’s name.

10. Last but not least, give it the “no, $#!+” test. Don’t let a cutline through that says something akin to “Person Personson stands in a hallway in Preston Hall.” I have eyeballs. I can see that. Tell me what a glance at the photo can’t.


Sidesaddle cutlines: Sidesaddle cutlines should be used if you play the art at bastard column width so that the art plus the cutline maintain the story’s column grid. For example, if the story is laid out at 6 columns, the photo – let’s say we play it at 3 columns – would then either be shrunk to 2.5 or enlarged to 3.5 columns. The cutline would take up the other .5 column so together they would take either 3 or 4 columns on a 6 column grid. Here’s a 1.5K photo with a .5K cutline on a 5K grid.

Screen Shot 2014-06-28 at 4.14.00 AM


You can apply the same to a story that’s on a bastard column width (like a 5 column story on a 6 column grid.)

Sidesaddle cutlines should only be used on horizontal photos, though, to avoid have awkward gaps of white space below the last line of the cutline.

Mugs: Mugs should be .5 a column from a 6 column grid and the face should be at least the size of your thumb. The type should include first and last name followed by the person’s UTA-relevant information. Do not use a mug of someone not used in the story unless you are doing mug and quotes. If this is the case, you should make sure it’s obvious this person’s relation to the story is purely their opinion. (And don’t mug and quote for a story when the tone doesn’t call for it.) Also, don’t wedge a mug in the dead center of a column unless you’ve for some reason sidesaddled the mugline. Otherwise, try to get the mug centered between two columns so the textwrap doesn’t look redonkulous.

In crime stories it’s important to NEVER put the suspect and victim together. They must be separated on the page.


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