Saturday, January 14, 2006

Firefighters Battle Blaze

Yes, they do. Every time. But what's the writer of a headline, caption or story to do? The obvious attempt to avoid "firefighters fight fires" is better than not avoiding it, I think, and there aren't too many other alternatives. ("Firefighters confront conflagration?")

Is it redundant to say such a thing? Not really, any more than "firefighters sit and wait" or "firefighters cook chili" or "firefighters score with chicks."

In a caption, especially, you sort of have to say they're doing something. "Firefighters do their job"? "Firefighters tend to ...," and then what? A fire? A blaze? Some flames?

Any ideas?


Holly said...

I don't know about headlines, but I can remember being told that the caption should tell you something the photo doesn't tell you. So if it's a picture of a firefighter doing his job at a fire, the caption should mention his name and where he is and when and all, and then some info on why you should care this photo is in the paper (strange amount of fires this month, unusual circumstance with the fire and/or firefighter). "Dan Moore douses fire with water," is just a waste of space if you can figure that out without a caption.

Monica said...

If the fire and the firefighter are obvious in the photo, you don't need to repeat that in the caption. The previous commenter has good suggestions on that.

As for the headline, the point of interest probably isn't the firefighters; it's the fire. So can you focus on that instead? "Smallesville lumberyard burns to ground; no one injured" conveys useful information; "firefighters battle blaze" just tells you there was a fire somewhere that attracted at least two firefighters.

Andrew Phelps said...

I think "Firefighters Battle Blaze" is the result of the overexaggerated "active-voice" fad. That headline gives me no information.

Like Monica said, let's hear a detail about the fire.

Try "Lakewood fire rages" or "Lakewood fire contained" or something. We've got a detail, a noun, and a verb.

Paul said...

To avoid stating the obvious my headline will often incoporate a number - about number of brigades ateending, damage estimates, acerage of forest lost, time taken, etc

jackv said...

You could say "Firefighters do".

But I heartily agree some other detail would be better.

D. B. Scott said...

It takes more work and time to ceate an insightful, amplifying caption than to state the obvious. Editors are, for some reason, unwilling to let the caption be part of the reporting (that is, pulling out an intersting fact to illustrate the illustration). So we get "telephone pointing" pictures ("Man on telephone points at map" when that's crashingly obvious.)

noneemac said...

Firefighters are like baseball umpires: paid well to do their jobs and stay out of the headlines. So when the fire-prevention effort is routine, do like sportswriters do and leave the men in blue out of it.

Photo depicts Omar Vizquel sliding into third.

Caption reads: "Vizquel beats the throw from Wilson on his sixth-inning triple" not "Wendelstedt calls Vizquel safe at third on his sixth-inning triple."

Photo depicts a warehouse fire.

Caption reads, "Millions of dollars of wine perished in Napa fire" not "Firefighters can't save wine in time."

Dan said...

I recently encountered "Archaeologists Uncover Ancient Ruins," which bears the same problem.

Andrew Phelps' "Lakewood Fire Rages" is spot-on for a general fire story. If it's a story about the firefighters themselves, maybe "Firefighters Contain Blaze," or "Firefighters Hopeful as Lakewood Continues to Burn," or "Firefighters Fleeing in Terror as Fire Rages Out of Control," or something along those general lines.

Jordan Golson said...

"Firefighters Fan Flames"

Alex Zesch said...

With fire headlines, I look for what's unusual about it. The fact that something burned and that firefighters were called isn't. Often it's what caused the fire (if that's known yet), how many were hurt, what burned etc.
Cutlines that are informative do take more effort, obviously. I encounter this often in captions on Iraq photos. When I can say quickly that something blew up I do and then add something that can't be seen in the photo, for example how many attacks were counted that day.

Mark Wellhausen said...

Bring back "firemen."