Friday, December 14, 2007

AP Updates Company Names

But beware of a small trap.

The AP is more explicit in its updated "company names" entry, with specific examples:

Generally, follow the spelling and capitalization preferred by the company: eBay. But capitalize the first letter if it begins a sentence.

Do not use all capital letter names unless the letters are individually pronounced: BMW. Others should be uppercase and lowercase. Ikea not IKEA; USA Today, not USA TODAY.

Do not use symbols such as exclamation points, plus signs or asterisks that form contrived spellings that might distract or confuse a reader. Use Yahoo, not Yahoo!; Toys R Us, not Toys "R" Us; E-Trade, not E*Trade.

The potential clunker in there, if you are not careful, is Toys "R" Us. The AP has a separate entry for that company mandating the quote marks. I checked the online stylebook a few minute ago, and it's still there, though I pointed this out to stylebook editor Norm Goldstein about a week ago. So make sure to go in and pencil in both changes. I haven't checked for any others.

(With a work as massive as the stylebook, such glitches are bound to happen. For instance, two years ago AP went to abbreviations for all titles such as Gov., Sen., etc. before names, even in quotes. However, under "titles" is this slightly misleading wording still there: "The following formal titles are capitalized and abbreviated as shown when used before a name outside quotations. (Italics mine.) That's led some folks to mistakenly conclude those should still be spelled out inside a quotation. Much as I favor that approach, it's not how AP does things these days. Goldstein had to clean out several cross-references when this changed; I'm sure he'll get this one clarified before the next edition.)

Some other changes to AP's entry on companies:
  • The formal name need not be used on first reference -- for example, Wal-Mart is acceptable for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. -- but it should be contained in the body of any story in which the subject matter could affect a company's business. For example, include the corporate name in a story on an earnings report, or in a story on a plane crash that could affect the airline's stock price. However, the corporate name might be irrelevant in a story about a political candidate's appearance at a local retail outlet.
  • When the full corporate name is NOT in the story, it should be included in a self-contained paragraph separated from the bottom of the story by a dash: American Airlines is a unit of AMR Corp., or Disney's full corporate name is The Walt Disney Co. If more than one company is listed, each should be in a self-contained paragraph below the dash.
(I doubt we'll see too many papers adding those last grafs. The wire service does it to make sure editors who want it have it.)

The AP has also changed its reference for proper company names. Instead of Standard & Poor's Register of Corporations, it now refers users to the major stock exchange sites (AP also has an internal site, but it's not accessible to outsiders. Wouldn't that be a great addition to the electronic stylebook, however? Share the jewels with those paying the money. The AP tantalizingly makes the link clickable in the online stylebook, only to have it to go a 404 error.)

For a company's formal name, consult the national stock exchanges: the New York Stock Exchange,; Nasdaq,; or the American Stock Exchange, (AP staffers may also reference an alphabetical list of all company names, with stock ticker abbreviations, at

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At 12/14/07, 8:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is Norm still Stylebook editor? I see David Minthorn took over answering questions at the online stylebook site.

At 12/14/07, 10:31 PM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

Yes, I see that. I hadn't checked the site for a couple of weeks, but as late as couple of weeks ago had not seen the change. Inquiries are out, but if anyone from AP can shed some light, please let me know. (I don't see any announcements on AP's site.)

I'm just hoping Norm is taking a nice cruise somewhere. Or maybe after a year of being "retired" but on stylebook duty he has decided to pass on some or all of the joy.

At 12/15/07, 4:32 AM, Blogger ptotheatsign said...

A wonderful, Bill Walsh-inspired change by the AP that was needed long ago -- and whose value was unknown or flat-out ignored by a surprisingly high percentage of journalists (at least among those I know). Thank you for bringing it to my attention.

At 12/19/07, 1:34 PM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

My sources say it appears Norm has now "fully" retired. Not that the AP would announce that, of course, even though he was one of the most cited figures on style in the world.

Initially the word was that Sally Jacobsen was taking over management of the book. Not sure how Minthorn fits in.

At 1/6/08, 10:27 PM, Blogger ptotheatsign said...

You said: "two years ago AP went to abbreviations for all titles such as Gov., Sen., etc. before names, even in quotes."

How did you find this out? (I have no copies of the stylebook from previous years, so I can't consult them.) The 2007 edition's "lieutenant governor" entry says, "Capitalize and spell out when used as a formal title before one or more names in direct quotations." That entry seems to indicate AP did not make such a change. But perhaps this is just another instance of a sweeping style change affecting multiple entries and the editors didn't modify all the affected entries to make them consistent.

If AP did make such a change, do you know if it applies to other regularly abbreviated terms? (For example, addresses and city-state combos.)


At 1/7/08, 3:07 PM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

I know because I spoke directly with Norm Goldstein about it a year ago.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of detritus still in the stylebook because these changes covered numerous entries. I hadn't checked the lieutenant governor entry, but did the governor and senator and it was removed from those. As noted, under "titles" there also remains some misleading wording.

AP now abbreviates everything in quotes that it would abbreviate in normal text -- specific addresses (St., Ave., Blvd.), months with specific dates (Jan. 15, for instance) and things like No. 1.

I don't like it because we don't talk that way, and I think the quote is a special case. But it is what it is.


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