Monday, May 25, 2009

How online changes the AP style game

Just something to consider from Robert Niles discussing how to search engine optimize your site:

Keyword repetition and density on the page still play a role in where you end up in the SERPs (though not nearly as much as in the pre-Google era.) You can help yourself, therefore, by moving away from rigid AP style rules on second references and place names to more SEO-friendly use of full names on some (but not all) subsequent references within a story.

So I find myself coming back to the average college student I teach who has been brought up in an elementary and high school system that, more than likely, encourages rules, standardized testing and the like. Those students struggle enough trying to navigate the "often you do, but sometimes you don't" vagaries of current news styles.

Niles is correct in his suggestion, but I can hardly wait for the fun.

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At 5/25/09, 11:41 AM, Anonymous Luke Morris said...

So about 10 months ago, I was the intern who told you I was struggling with figuring out when the rules were set in stone and when they could be bent.

With another year of experience under my belt, I have caught on that the rules are like amorphous solids. You can't break them under normal conditions, but when the situation heats up, you can bend them.

At 5/25/09, 11:52 AM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

Yeah. I use the phrase in my copy-editing classes that style is "arbitrary but not capricious." Someone has to study all the options and make a ruling. The ruling, by its nature, is arbitrary because there may be many equally good alternatives. But it generally is not capricious - nor is any good writing in breaking those "guides."

At 5/26/09, 11:36 AM, Anonymous Erik Gable said...

Relatedly, I have a Google News search set up for "Adrian, Mich." I have it that way because I figure that's probably how most news outlets will phrase it, increasing the number of relevant stories the search will pull in. But what will most people put into a search engine if they want to find information about my town? I'm guessing "Adrian, Michigan" or "Adrian, MI" would be higher on the list.

At 5/26/09, 5:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As Special Sections editor at a local newspaper in Lewiston, Maine, I edit and format the content for advertising supplements. Sometimes I need to explain to advertisers why I edited and formatted their article. I use the AP Stylebook as my guide so as to make the articles look like the articles in the daily pages. But, I am not restricted to the AP Style. I like to say that this is "Special Sections, after all." Just today I explained to an advertiser about acronyms and second reference (among other things, such as whether county needs to be capitalized, whether central needs to be capitalized). I had my AP Stylebook to back up my decisions and I gave them photocopies of the references. The phrase "board of directors" was another capitalization issue I explained. I'm also an Arts & Humanities student and we are taught MLA and APA, but not AP.

At 5/27/09, 2:19 AM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

Yep. Corporate style is its own special thing.

One thing you find out is that the "closer" the subject is to the corporate core, the more the tendency to capitalize. Same in academics. That's why in university documents we always cap "University," even standing alone, though I cringe every time.

(And of course, some publications capitalize "president" in all uses when referring to the head of their particular country.)

At 5/27/09, 2:21 AM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

You make an excellent point - journalists have to sometimes think more like regular users, not power searchers.

That goes for design of Web sites, too. How many have "RSS feeds"? Think most people really know what that means?

Wouldn't it be better to use a few more words, like "get updates" or "get the news sent to you"?



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