Worth a thousand words

18 Apr

You can almost see the brushstrokes:

When you’re adding a picture to a news story for the web, of course you have to write a caption. But you will also be asked to create some “alt text” – a brief, embedded description of the photograph that is invisible under normal circumstances, but may appear if you hover your pointer over it in the browser. By far alt text’s most useful function is that it can be read out loud by a screen reader – a piece of software that translates a web page into the spoken word for visually impaired computer users.

That means, of course, that you probably can’t just cut and paste the caption you’ve just written: this is no place for snark or commentary. If the photo is of the Alabama lacrosse team celebrating after breaking an 0-for-7 start, your caption may say “Tide: off the schneid”, but the alt text needs to say “Alabama lacrosse team players celebrating”.

And if that’s true for photographs, it’s equally true for cartoons. What’s being portrayed may be a little more, er, unusual, but that doesn’t alter the nature of the task: you still have to provide a faithful verbal description of what the illustration shows. Have confidence, and the muscular metaphors of the political cartoonist will come to life in the mind’s eye almost as surely as if they were looking at the original watercolour.

You could practically display them in a gallery:


2 Responses to “Worth a thousand words”

  1. Steve Dunham April 19, 2017 at 6:12 pm #

    I expect that the logo was on the pig’s side, but at first I thought that the pig was lying on its side: it might have fallen over, maybe stuffed from eating too much. One thing I’ve learned as an editor is that if something can be read two ways, some people will read it only the wrong way. That quibble aside, these are good examples of alt text. And in case anybody hasn’t noticed, a few years ago Internet Explorer stopped displaying alt text, and Microsoft told HTML coders to use “title” instead. Now I use both, but what about all the web content that was already out there using “alt”? A pox on Microsoft!

    • edlatham April 19, 2017 at 9:51 pm #

      It’s an ever-moving target trying to optimise for browsers, mobiles, tablets etc. We’re under standing instructions to consider mobile first, which at least helps us prioritise.

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