1 Textual & Visual Media 5, 2012 [55-68] The photo caption as an informative element in Spanish journalism: Uses and characteristics Hugo Doménech Fabregat Jaume I University Recived: Accepted: Abstract The photo caption continues to perform an essential communications function in the traditional press. For this reason, a study of the characteristics and uses of captions is key to gaining a clear idea of the current degree of photojournalism s effectiveness in digital communications. This article sets out to identify the main characteristics of the text legend and the image credit line, the two units that together make up a photo caption, and to trace the evolution of their use, based on an analysis of selected images drawn from several mainstream Spanish newspapers. For this study, content method analysis was applied to a sample of approximately one thousand photojournalistic images that appeared in selected Spanish dailies during the period Our findings suggest that there has been a gradual decline in the use of the text legend and a commensurate rise in both the number of photographs published without any form of identification and the proportion of images drawn from new alternative sources. Keywords: photojournalism, journalistic image, photo caption, authorship, citizen photojournalism Contents: 1. Introduction: the photo caption as an element of journalism. 2. The general characteristics of photo captions: legend and photo credit. 3. Methodology. 4. Results Ratio between the number of photojournalistic images featured and the number of pages published The use of photo captions Use of photo credits to attribute authorship and source. 5. Conclusions 1. Introduction: the photo caption as an element of journalism Photographic content continues to be an important informative component of mainstream daily newspapers (Visa, 2011). Nevertheless, technological innovation and the deep crisis that the overall sector is now facing (Diezhandino, 2008; Martín Algarra, 1990) are altering traditional ways of presenting photographic content in ways that are affecting their value as an informative element. The
2  Textual & Visual Media 5, 2012 Hugo Doménech need to adapt photographic images to fit new technological, visual and informational contexts generated by the digital revolution and the overall crisis in which journalism is currently enmeshed are both transforming the characteristics and traditional informative potential of these images (Baeza: 2011a; Gubern: 2004; Alcoba: 1988). Simultaneously, old debates about core concepts of photojournalism such as the quality and credibility of the photographic document are now being revived (Fontcuberta, 2012; Flusser, 2001; Moles, 1991). There are two generally accepted characteristics that define photojournalism in the context of today s digital media. The first is the increased ease with which a wide variety of images gathered from a broad range of sources can be manipulated, published and circulated by daily newspapers (Tagg, 2005; Lister, 1997). The other, which is related to the first, is photojournalism s loss of public credibility in the response to the overwhelming variety of the photos they are exposed to by the press (Caminos et al., 2008; Bañuelos, 2006; Ribalta, 2004). One can also observe an increased use of trivial, stereotypical photographs in the press that subverts their fundamental purpose: to effectively communicate as much information as possible about a newsworthy situation (Sousa: 2003; Caujolle: 2002). Considering these circumstances, the information provided in photo captions, which usually include both a legend and a credit line identifying the source of the image (Amar, 2005; Vilches, 1987; Alcoba, 1988), has become a key to the accurate interpretation of images and a core requisite for journalistic transparency. A properly executed synthesis of text and image can be a powerful tool for improving the informative usefulness and legitimacy of this aspect of journalism. The particularities of photojournalism in the digital era call for a review of all the elements it comprises. This article focuses specifically on the photo caption, a block of explanatory text that usually includes a text legend and an image credit line that provides the name of the photographer or source from which the image was obtained (Caballo, 2003; Alonso, 1995). For the purposes of our analysis, we studied captions drawn from four major Spanish daily newspapers (Reig, 2000; Imbert & Vidal-Beneyto, 1986) to identify both general trends in how photo captions were used and the particular characteristics of these captions themselves. A longitudinal analysis of photo captions published in Spanish newspapers during the period was conducted in order to gain insight into how the mainstream Spanish press handled the principal elements of these captions (legend and image credit line). Following the definition and description of the object of study, this article comprises four distinct sections. In the first, the photo caption as an informative unit is discussed from a theoretical point of view. In the second and third sections, we present the methodology used for analysis and a synthesis of the main findings of our research. The fourth and final section contains the conclusions of our study and an assessment of the characteristics of the photo captions featured in mainstream Spanish newspapers and their use as an informative element.
3 The photo caption as an informative element in... T & VM 5, 2012  2. The general characteristics of photo captions: legend and photo credit The photo caption was originally created to facilitate the identification and cataloguing of images; it has been traditionally treated as a narrative element used to identify and contextualise a published image and ensure that it is understood and interpreted correctly (Alonso, 1995: 69). Over time, this informative unit has come to exert a powerful influence over our thinking and behaviour as readers (Vilches, 1987: 72). There are very few examples of studies focused on the photo caption as an informative unit to be found in the scientific literature pertaining to Spanish journalism. Among those on record, Lorenzo Vilches 1983 quantitative study is particularly noteworthy, as it offers a timely picture of the state of the photo caption during the era when all Spanish newspapers ran only print editions. The principle findings of his quantitative research on this subject were included in his monograph Teoría de la imagen periodística (Vilches, 1987). This initial research has been followed by more recent collateral studies that have examined the structural elements that make up photo captions in digital daily newspapers (Franquet & Villa, 2011; Caminos et al., 2008; Abreu, 2004). The novelty of the present study lies in its exploration of the photo caption as a specific and individual unit within the overall context of the printed page of a newspaper. The importance of a caption lies in the connotative meaning it confers on a photographic image. Since the publication of the first magazines and newspapers, theorists and professionals have argued that if journalistic images are not accompanied by textual explanations they become mute and remain mere forms of denotation (Benjamin, 2004; Freund, 2001; Sontag, 1981; Barthes, 1980). A news photograph does not provide a clear, stable or obvious meaning on its own. The content of photographic images needs to be situated in a textual framework in order to be correctly interpreted and for a photograph to be fully informative (Cabrera & Granados, 2008; Casajús, 1998). Thus, the photo caption is universally considered to be a textual complement that, when appropriately crafted, brings out the latent intentions of an image for the purpose of delineating of the original polysemy that defines it (Martínez Albertos, 2004; Martín Algarra, 1999; Keene, 1995; Zunzunegui, 1992). The new possibilities offered by technical manipulation of digital images and easy access to a variety of image banks have meant that the photographs featured in newspapers today are increasingly illustrative, low-information images that communicate stereotypes (Gómez Isla, 2008; Baeza, 2001a; Bañuelos, 2006). Given this growing trend, well-crafted photo captions that establish the meaning of photographs and identify sources have become, more than ever, one of the essential requisites for quality journalism. In order words, an informative and explanatory photo caption can ensure the correct interpretation of this type of photograph (Hightower, 1984). Furthermore, providing information about the source of an image and accurate attributions enhances the credibility of photojournalistic discourse and fosters the application of sound professional practices. In this sense, in addition to
4  Textual & Visual Media 5, 2012 Hugo Doménech establishing a photographer s rights as author of a given image, a photographic caption also constitutes a sign of a newspaper s responsibility for the photographs it publishes and a quality seal that inspires public confidence (Caballo, 2003; Grijelmo, 1997). The defence of a photojournalists rights must be understood as being not only a form of professional recognition, but also as a guarantee that daily newspaper readers have access to free, informative images at a moment in which photojournalism is enmeshed in what has been described as the photo archive wars (Baeza, 2001a: 59). On the basis of these introductory reflections, we argue that photojournalistic images and their constituent elements should be an integral part of the debate on the structures and practices of journalism as a whole and the sources it draws from (whether viewed from a historiographical perspective or on the basis of a symptomatological analysis of present practice), a premise that implies facing the contradictions of our society (Català, 2011: 215). 3. Methodology The methodological design of this study was based on quantitative content analysis (Igartua, 2006; Bardin, 1986) of the two elements that make up a photo caption: the legend and the credit line. These elements constitute the object of study of this investigation because they are two relevant indicators that facilitate an evaluation of the quality and rigor of current photojournalism. Content analysis (Wimmer & Dominick, 1997) is particularly applicable to a study of photo captions because it yields objective and systematic statistics on this element of photojournalistic content. The sample analysed contained both purely informative and illustrative images drawn from the newspapers selected for the study. The only type of photographs not included in the sample were those that appeared in sections providing TV and movie listings, cultural calendars and so forth, which were excluded because these images had more to do with advertising photography than photojournalism (Baeza, 2001b). Three specific variables were applied to a homogenous, evolutionary sample of approximately one thousand photographs: a) the ratio of photojournalistic images to the number of pages, b) the presence or absence of photo captions, and c) the type of identification provided. Respective associated values were also considered. Table 1 provides a summary of the analysis protocol used in this study including the variables applied and their associated values. The sample used in this study focused on four mainstream Spanish newspapers: Abc, El País, El Periódico de Cataluña and La Vanguardia. Care was taken to make sure that the dailies selected for the sample, whether national and regional, were mainstream newspapers that used photography as a substantial element of their coverage of the news. Further consideration was given to newspapers whose style guides included explicit instructions regarding how photo captions were to be treated (Camps, 2004; Fite & Busquets, 2002; El País, 1996; ABC, 1993).
5 The photo caption as an informative element in... T & VM 5, 2012  Although all of the selected newspapers run digital versions, we opted to apply the content analysis model exclusively to their print versions for motives related to technical issues and relevance. The photojournalism practiced in the digital newsrooms of Spanish newspapers differs only slightly from that applied to their parallel print editions, with a few exceptions; digital editions tend to be online copies of print editions and do not fully exploit the informative potential of modern digital formats (Franquet & Villa, 2011; Caminos et al., 2008). Furthermore, the photo-captioning techniques used in digital editions are quite dissimilar from those employed in print editions, and are evolving constantly, a factor that to a certain degree distorted study findings. It is also important to note that both the style guides used and the professional guidelines applied to photographic images by these newspapers are still based on the fundamentals of print journalism. Table 1. Summary of analysis protocol Variable Associated Values Ratio of photographs per page (Ratio between number of images and the number of pages. 1. Number of images 2. Number of pages 3. Images per page (percentage) Uuse of photo caption (Presence and distribution of photo captions per image) 1. Photograph with photo caption 2. Photograph without photo caption 3. Two or more photographs with photo caption Author/Source Identification (Credit line providing photographer s name or other source) 1. Photographer 2. Image database 3. Agency 4. Not identified 5. Other sources Material used for this study was published during the period , a time frame that was long enough to permit a longitudinal study that traced the evolution of the data analysed. This length of time permitted us to fully pursue the objectives of our study: the precise identification of both elemental structures and evolving trends in photojournalism over a specific span of time. All of the selected sample photographs used in the four newspapers studied represented ordinary news days. Working from this premise, we selected one daily edition for each of the four newspapers from the news archives for 2005, 2008 and 2012 and analysed the photo captions that appeared in these editions, our intention being to use the data obtained from a careful analysis of this material to compile an overall picture of how photo captions in traditionally formatted Spanish newspapers have been used over the last half-decade.
6  Textual & Visual Media 5, 2012 Hugo Doménech 4. Results 4.1. Ratio between the number of photojournalistic images featured and the number of pages published A total of 991 photojournalistic images that had been featured in the four selected newspapers during the three years previously cited were analysed for this study. In 2005, these four newspapers published 365 photojournalistic images, which translated into approximately one photograph per page (1.14). The figure for the day in 2012 chosen for the sample was somewhat lower (303), reducing the average photograph per page to less than one (0.98). This reduction in the number of photographs published in 2012 can be explained by the elimination of small images frequently used in digital layout for aesthetic effect that had temporarily spilled over to the print layout of Spanish newspapers for several years after the introduction of online editions (Baeza, 2001a; Canga, 1994). El Periódico de Cataluña (EPC) and El País (EP) published the fewest photographs per page, whereas La Vanguardia (LV) maintained a higher number of published images in the two years studied, with an average that was closer to the mean of one photograph per page (0.91). We noted that the number of photojournalistic features published by Abc (ABC) increased over the period This newspaper stands out as the only one in the group analysed that puts a specific emphasis on photojournalism. Abc dedicates several pages exclusively to visual information daily in a section titled Enfoque. Although Abc was the only newspaper analysed that exceeded the mean of one photo per page (1.03) in 2012, it must be noted that a substantial proportion of the total images it published were concentrated in its Enfoque section. Table 2. Number of photographs published in relation to number of pages (Distribution per year) Newspaper Total photos Total pages % photos Total photos Total pages % photos Total photos Total pages % photos ABC EP EPC LV Totals % % %
7 The photo caption as an informative element in... T & VM 5, 2012  4.2. The use of photo captions The findings of this study indicate that there was a gradual decrease in the use of photo captions during the time frame analysed ( ). In the 2005 sample, 91.23% of the photographs published were accompanied by a legend compared to 84.48% of those in the 2012 sample. There was also a notable increase in the number of photographs run without captions. Of the images contained in the 2005 sample, 6.84% appeared without any type of legend, a proportion that increased to almost ten per cent (9.90%) of the total images in the 2012 sample. This increase coincides with a growing dissociation of the photograph from its informative function and value and a shift towards the use of photographic images that focused on celebrities or entertainment, both of which are characteristic of digital journalism (Baeza, 2001b; Ramonet, 2000). This change in function explains the increase in the number of photographic images that were published without captions, as it parallels the increased use of illustrative and stereotypical photographs easily consumed by the public. The longitudinal analysis of another selected indicator for photo captions revealed another pattern: the grouping together of several photographs under a single photo caption. The highest number of such groupings occurred in 2012 (5.61%), whereas in 2005, this category did not even constitute two percent of the total (1.91%). (See figure 1 below for complete data.) Figure I. Evolution in the use of photo captions This evolution can also be explained by the growing use of trivial and illustrative photographs in reporting as well as the trend toward magazining newspapers; which is to say that advertising may currently be setting the aesthetic standards applied by photo editors working in the field of journalism.
8  Textual & Visual Media 5, 2012 Hugo Doménech Table 3. Presence and use of photo captions (distribution per year) photo=1caption 1photo=0capion 2 or + photos=1caption Total Photos Abc El País El Periódico La Vanguardia Total number % 91.23% 6.849% 1.917% photo=1caption 1photo=0caption 2 or + photos=1caption Total Photos Abc El País El Periódico La Vanguardia Total number % % 8.049% 1.238% 1photo=1caption 1photo=0caption 2 or + photos=1caption - Total Photos Abc El País El Periódico La Vanguardia Total number % % 9.90% 5.61% Use of photo credits to attribute authorship and source The data obtained from the longitudinal study indicate that there has been a significant decrease in the number of photographs published without any identification of source or authorship. However, they also show that photographs without credit lines nevertheless represent a significant portion of the total number of images analysed. For example, almost a third of the images in the 2012 sample did not credit a source (32.34%). El Periódico de Cataluña was the only paper for which the number of photographs that carried such information (41) roughly matched the number that did not (38).
9 The photo caption as an informative element in... T & VM 5, 2012  Paradoxically, if there is one thing that has changed since photojournalism has adopted digital parameters and technology, it is the ease with which images can be altered and appropriated, in many cases illegally. These two factors are directly related to newspapers lack of credibility; as this study shows, they do not always credit a photographer or source for the images they publish. Between 2005 and the present there has been a gradual increase in the use of archive photographs. Of the 303 images that were published in 2012, 4.6% were from the newspapers own archives (see Table 4). This finding confirms that reporting on current affairs incorporating photographic images is conditioned by a journalistic and commercial strategy based on the re-use of previous images that do not provide added photojournalistic value (Guallar, 2011). Figure 2. Evolution, credit and type of identification used for photographic images However, our findings also confirm that during the time frame covered by our analysis there was also a general increase in the number of images drawn from photo agencies. Both Abc and El País published more photos obtained from agencies than photos taken by their own photographers. This trend is only one of several indicators that point to a deep crisis and depersonalisation of newspapers graphic identities that is jeopardising the profession of photojournalism as we have come to know it (Batchen, 2004; Brisset, 2002). The data also indicate that there has been a considerable increase in the number of photographs drawn from other sources (image banks, television, amateur photographers, etc.), which provided more than 4% of the total photojournalistic content published by the four newspapers studied in 2012 (see Figure 2 for complete statistics). This increase in the use of canned images may be directly related to the rise of large conglomerates such as Corbis, Getty Images and Hachette, whose business
10  Textual & Visual Media 5, 2012 Hugo Doménech models are based on the affordable distribution of vast numbers of illustrative images acquired through the purchase of countless individual traditional photographic agency archives (Baeza, 2001a). Table 4. Credits and types of identification (distribution per year) 2005 Signature File Agency Non-identify Others TotalPhotos Abc El País El Periódico La Vanguardia Total number % 23.5% 2.7% 26.3% 46% 1.3% Signature File Agency Non-identify Others Total Photos Abc El País El Periódico La Vanguardia Total number % 35.2% 8% 23.2% 28.1% 5.2% Signature File Agency Non-identify Others Total Photos Abc El País El Periódico La Vanguardia Total number % 30.3% 4.6% 28.3% 32.3% 4.2% - 5. Conclusions The results of our analysis allow us to verify the existence of certain patterns in professional practices regarding the use of photo captions as an informative component in Spanish newspapers. In general terms, findings indicate a moderate decrease in the number of photographs published in relation to the number of pages published.
11 The photo caption as an informative element in... T & VM 5, 2012  There has also been a progressive decrease in the number of photographs accompanied by captions providing the information necessary to interpret them accurately. A significant number of photographs published by the Spanish press are now run without captions. As previously indicated, the most important problem currently facing photojournalism in the digital age is a lack of credibility. We believe that the loss of public confidence in information published by newspapers and the reduced effectiveness of the photographs used to accompany this information are both related to the practice of publishing uncaptioned images, given that the failure to provide a caption makes it more difficult for readers to interpret these images correctly. We posit that the combination of photograph and caption provides the viewer with a practical and appropriate means of understanding photographs in the context of journalism. Symptomatic of this problem is the fact that few style guides used by Spanish newspapers devote a section to photo captions. One of the exceptions that provide more than just basic editorial criteria is the El País Libro de Estilo, which stipulates that photographs must always be captioned and that sources must also be identified (El País, 1996). Despite the decrease in the number of photographs published without credits, our data show that almost a third of all photographs that appear in print versions of Spanish newspapers do not carry identification. It is our conviction that in order to regain the essence and informative value of photographic images in the context of digital journalism, these images must be accompanied by photo captions that provide information establishing their authorship and source (Marzal, 2007). Therefore, we believe that practices should be revised to reflect higher journalistic standards and that newspapers adopt policies that require all photographic images, independent of their nature or origin, to be correctly identified and attributed. The results of our analysis of indicators for image sources show that Spanish newspapers are progressively relying less on their own staff photographers or contract freelancers for the images they publish and are increasingly opting to run a more generic type of stock images sourced from large press agencies, digital image banks or their own photo archives (Codina, 2011). Another source for photographic images that has emerged over the past few years is the amateur photographer. Digital technology has made it easier for anyone with a camera or other suitable mobile device to capture, edit and circulate informative images. Until recently, the production and circulation of this type of image was the exclusive territory of professional reporters who worked directly with news publications. However, both online editions of newspapers and traditional print publications have now begun to publish amateur photographs on a regular basis. The growing use of images captured and manipulated by non-professionals has given rise to the profile of the citizen reporter and of a new category of photographic agency that showcases the work of amateur photographers and makes it commercially available to publications seeking specific types of stock images. In conclusion, we suggest that this new trend towards citizen photojournalism and other factors such as the ease of producing manipulated images that distort
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