Field Notes: Words

From a glance the Los Angeles Times appears to be a traditional and straightforward news publication, a notion that rings truer upon reading it.

     The paper uses a variety of headlines—hammers, summaries and ones of great length (but not winding). Reading through a typical LA Times issue you’ll see all of these scattered throughout in no apparent pattern with exception to the hammer head, which appears most frequently in the center of section openers. Summary-style headlines introduce columns or brief sections and longer ones appear with any type of story in all sections on nearly every other page. These long ones appear frequently but do not wind hardly at all. There was more tombstoning than I expected or noticed before, something that is supposed to be against the rules of newspaper journalism. To summarize, there isn’t an overwhelming majority of headline styles used in this publication; these three are evenly distributed.
Decks occur with all the hammer headlines, taking up no more than two lines. Subheads also occur with columns and inside stories depending on the length of the story’s headline. When a headline is short and punchy subheads occur more often, but when headlines are wordier, they lead straight to the story more often.
The LA Times is comprised of nine main sections (front page, The World, The Nation, Opinion, Business, Sports, Culture, Comics and International Daily). Every section except for Sports and Culture uses a serious and straightforward tone of voice; there’s little guesswork in the story’s point after reading the title. In Sports and Culture headlines become playful and a bit more conceptual, since the content often lends itself to such.

Pull Quotes and Captions
     Pull quotes are a rare occurrence in the LA Times but when they’re used, the quotes are typically compelling. The ones I’ve seen feel like closing statements, almost; like the statement is leading up to a powerful ending of the speaker’s discussion. Like the consistent news philosophy used in the publication, the pull quotes match the no-guesswork style; they’re self-explanatory and are always attributed, ranging from one (long) to three (shorter) sentences.
The style of captions follows the same style. They’re three sentences at the most, though most often just two, and are serious and straightforward. There’s slim to no playfulness in the caption writing except for when describing lighter content, like in Sports and Culture again. Sometimes they include brief quotes elaborating on the content of the caption.

Bylines and Credit Lines
     Bylines are phrased, “By Name Name.” At the end of a story the writer’s email address is listed with additional information on where reporting occurred, if relevant or necessary. This is a logical practice. The beginning of the story merits the writer’s name but his or her contact information isn’t necessary until the end since a reader wouldn’t be inclined to contact a writer until they’ve read the story. Credit lines are even simpler. They read, “NAME NAME place of work” at the bottom right of the photo. This also is a logical practice. The photographer isn’t always employed by the LA Times itself so readers can see where they work. Being that the photographer went to a specific location to shoot, sometimes it feels like credit lines should incorporate more of a caption to credit the photographer’s effort, but the caption says what the credit line would say, so I’m not sure what would be different. My point is that photographers don’t get the recognition they deserve. We take photos for granted and don’t understand what goes into getting publish-worthy photography, so it’d be nice if publications acknowledged them more.

Section/Department Names
     Again, the section names mirror the style of the rest of the paper’s word choices: simple and straightforward leaving little to the imagination. The 14 section names are Front Page, The World, The Nation, Opinion, Op-Ed, Business, Company Town, Sports, At The Movies, Comics/Puzzles, LAtextr A, Obituaries and Weather—all of which tell you exactly what you’ll be reading about. The only one that leaves guesswork is LAtextr A, which is a play on “LATimes” and “Extra.” Otherwise, there’s nothing conceptual about the names, which is a smart move for a hard newspaper. The audience likely wouldn’t want playful or conceptual headlines with a daily newspaper that delivers them important content, so I feel this is appropriate for this paper.