Friday, April 16, 2010

AP Style - AP confirms "website," but holds off on state names

Updated to clarify Canadian provinces also remain and the wrack/rack distinction remains

And there are more style changes announed by AP at the ACES convention in Philadelphia today, including datelines and a pullback in the abbreviation for microphone, and clarifications of several points.

First, Editor at Large Darrell Christian confirmed my post from early today that AP is officially going with "website," but the date of change has been moved up  -- to tomorrow, April 17.

But it is holding off on the change of spelling out all state names and on using "Canada" instead of provinces for Canadian cities.

Web Site to website
The Web site/website debate has been one of the longest and sometimes acrimonious in AP style. The change is being made "in accordance with common usage," Christian said. As an example, AP's solicitation of advice about such terms on its stylebook Web site brought 66 replies calling for the change, he said.

"It's fighting a losing battle. Usage has overtaken the two words," Christian said. Also webcam, webcast, webmaster. But Web page and Web feed.

David Minthorn, deputy standards editor and another of the troika now editing the stylebook, said those generally are used more in the two-word form.

As to other ongoing debates in the electronic arena
  • Will Internet be lowercased? Christian: "No time soon." AP still considers it a proper noun.
  • What about the hyphen in e-mail? There's "still some disagreement," Christian said in true understatement. It will be left as e-mail for now, and, he said, "At this point we have no intention of joining the parade" of those publications going to the nonhyphenated form.
AP moved the advisory on its wires about "website" just as the session was about to begin. No coincidence, Christian said. (But I'm told that seeing it all over the Internet for several hours beforehand didn't hurt either.)
    State names spelled out - maybe soon instead of next month 
    Applause broke out when Christian announced the AP is pulling back from its directive that as of May 15 it would spell out all state names. "But not necessarily forever," Christian said.

    He blamed "in-house technical snags" for part of the reason, but it's also clear the crowd was ready to shoot and ask questions later if AP had not backed off. As noted by Gerri Berendzen of the Quincy Herald-Whig, unlike many changes that a desk might have to deal with once or twice a day, state names are an almost every-story occurrence and a real production issue.

    The idea, Christian said, was to "create a consistent and universal style for domestic and international use." But he acknowledged that after the feedback the wire service had received, this needed more review.

    This prompted me to again renew the call for AP to work with ACES to set up a users group that AP can consult for early feedback in such matters before it puts out an advisory and the big guns come out. Christian said AP would seriously consider it. Having worked with Darrell for many years and known him even longer, I take him at his word. Too often at AP in the past, "seriously consider it" was a blow-off term. (To reinforce the seriousness of some of these change that can otherwise seem wonky, read some reactions in this Poynter column. There can be very real production disruptions.)

    It is unclear to me whether AP's new policy to use "Canada" instead of provinces after the names of  Canadian cities still stands. I'll admit - I forgot to ask, and Christian and Minthorn did not specifically comment on it.

    In a follow-up e-mail from Christian, he confirms the AP is holding off on the change that would have substituted "Canada" for the province after Canadian cities.

    Dateline changes
    In a related matter, AP is restoring country names to some of its international datelines. The following cities should now again get the country after their name: Bogota, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Hamburg and Kabul.

    "Mike" vs. "Mic"
    Effective immediately, AP is reversing course on "mike" as the shorthand for microphone. As I wrote a week ago, this one was sure to provoke continued discussion, and it did, but apparently the discussion was short and came in a phone call from AP Broadcast, which was not at all happy. "We really screwed up on that," Christian said.

    This one still isn't settled, however. "Mic" will be the AP preference for the noun. As for the verb? Well, let's just say AP is tiptoeing away from that one and hoping no one notices. Minthorn's answer was that, well, Webster's New World Dictionary, allows "mike" as the verb. When pressed by Bill Walsh of the Washington Post -- "So if I'm wearing a mike, m-i-c, I will be miked, m-i-k-e-d," Minthorn quietly said "yes," and things moved on.

    Great Recession
    The AP's sanctioning of this term to cover the recent economic unpleasantness has been the subject of some griping by editors who don't think the AP should be creating historical labels while the history is still being written.

    Christian said this was another case of popular and increasing usage requiring the AP to arbitrate (and it's another example of how in the digital age, usage authorities like the AP are being put to the test to keep up with and evaluate the changes).

    "I think it was simply that Great Recssion had been used increasingly" by writers as well as government officials, Christian said, "and the decision was made that if people were going to use it, we had to rule on it." Minthorn said the fulcrum point was when AP Graphics wanted to use the term and called for a ruling.

    The AP consulted numerous authorities as well as its own reporters and "they said it made sense to capitalize it; it's in wide usage," Minthorn said.

    (Christian also disputed the contention that the Great Depression, with which parallels often are drawn, was not used until after the economic catastrophe was largely over. He said AP has been able to tract the term's usage to 1934).

    Other debated words, etc.
    Christian said work force and under way will remain two words for now (except in nautical cases where underway is one word.

    Wrack remains confusing. The question - more like statement - from the audience was thanks for clarifying that it was the preferred verb usage, but I still don't find it clarifying. The AP advisory that moved a few weeks ago said wracked: the preferred spelling when someone is wracked with doubt or pain. But it did not appear to change the existing stylebook entry that you rack your brain. I've asked Christian to clarify.

    Christian, in a follow-up e-mail, confirms what I suspected: "Racked her brain" is CQ.


    Why the style guidance? There's a dictionary entry that allows it, and it was being widely misused, Minthorn said.

    I'll update if I hear anything back.

    Using president's full first name: Christian said this again was an attempt at global uniformity, since President Barack Obama's first name was being used by media in other countries.

    Stylebook tech: I suggested the stylebook incorporate "suggested results" so that if someone isn't quite sure how to spell something, he or she does not come up empty. Product manager Colleen Newvine said that is in the works.

    Legal section: Minthorn says the goal in the new book is "de-legalizing it" so that the explanations are much easier to read.

    Legislature: There were the usual gripes about AP reporters not following style. And there was no better illustration of the complexity of the stylebook, which has grown from a slim volume in 1953 to today's tome of 450 pages (even though Christian said, "We don't want to become Webster's Jr."), than when Christian and Minthorn stumbled over each other while trying to answer a woman's question about the style on "Legislature."

    The style is that the word is capped when referring to a specific state governing body, even if the formal name is General Assembly, as long as you don't use General Assembly in the story. If you use General Assembly, however, legislature is lowercased as a shorthand for that term. Minthorn kept insisting to capitalize Legislature, while Christian kept pointing to the stylebok rule. The conversation ended with Minthorn saying it looked odd, and "put it up every time."


    I'm not sure if that was a style ruling or just the start of more consideration of it.


    Accents on the wire, as well as slashes: Christian, Minthorn and  Newvine said the AP's switch away from satellite transmission to the Internet-based AP News Exchange means the wire will regularly begin tranmsitting symbols such as / and @ later this year. I'm assuming from the question asked that accents will also be part of this mix. And that will undoubtedly touch off another round of debate about how various words adopted from foreign languages should be accented.

    Oh well, there's always next year in Phoenix.

    ----

    A bit more:
    Simon Owens has a blog post on some of the organized pressure on AP to change its style to "website."

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    8 Comments:

    At 4/17/10, 10:16 PM, Blogger Brian B said...

    Thanks for the rundown, Doug. I'm sharing this post with my colleagues here.

     
    At 4/19/10, 9:46 PM, Blogger Paul Bowers said...

    I'll stand firm with AP on the hyphen in e-mail. Email (pronounced "ay-MY") was a word long before the advent of the Internet. It refers to the product of emaillerie, which is the art form of applying enamel to metal plates.

     
    At 4/20/10, 10:10 AM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

    Yeah, but that's sort of like the reasoning AP used for hyphenating teenage for so long - there was an obscure Australian bush or something like that by the same name.

    I happen to like the hyphenated form too because it is how it is pronounced e-mail, not ehmail. However, I think common usage will eventually overtake. It almost always does.

     
    At 5/3/10, 1:07 PM, Blogger Terry said...

    except in nautical cases where underway is one word

    According to the New Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors, "under way" is "Naut. also underway", which implies that either under way or underway can be used in nautical circumstances.

     
    At 5/3/10, 1:28 PM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

    AP style is "underway," one word - it trumps the dictionary if you are following AP.
    D

     
    At 5/3/10, 1:30 PM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

    To clarify my last comments, since folks might not make the smooth connection to the response to Terry - it's "underway" one word in nautical sense. "Under way" in all others under AP style.

     
    At 6/14/10, 4:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Can a press release or statement "said" .... ?

    "a press release said 10 people died in a fire ..."

    how can a press release talk?

    isn't the proper style "10 people died in a fire, according to a press release" or "read a press release"?

     
    At 6/14/10, 5:42 PM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

    Yes, a press release or statement can "say" something, just as a company can "say" something. It's perfectly fine to write "the statement says such and such ..."

    "How can a press release talk" is an overly pendantic view. "According to a press release" is fine, but unnecessarily wordy, and "read a press release" is just ungainly.

     

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