Tuesday, November 23, 2010

AP style - considers spelling out state names again and other issues

After being kind of smacked down last year by anxious copy desks when it came close to issuing a fiat that all state names would be spelled out instead of being abbreviated, AP is edging toward that precipice again. The notice it is sending out, according to Teresa Schmedding of ACES:
As part of the annual AP Stylebook review, editors are taking another look at state abbreviations in an effort to create a more consistent style for international and domestic use.
We’re proposing to spell out state names in the body of a story, but continue to abbreviate them in datelines.
Currently, we use state abbreviations when a city is followed by a state name. Under the proposed change, Jones, major of Henderson, Ky., would become Jones, mayor of Henderson, Kentucky, in the body of a story. State names in datelines would continue to be abbreviated.
 This sort of arcane stuff really does have real-world consequences in news organizations that have used a particular style for many years, often because it saves space. Silly as it sounds to those outside a newsroom, perhaps, there is a serious retraining period for people who have had the "old" style injected into them from j-school on. There also are workflow considerations because invariably some outside material will come in using the old style.

And then there is the space consideration - those few extra letters can add up over a page of type. There was a reason to abbreviate to begin with, and this often is it.

Yet, I think newsrooms better get used to it. In the era of globalization and the Internet, AP (and many other news organizations) is no longer a stateside operation when it comes to readers. (Yes, AP has had country-specific wires for year, most of which it has sold, but that's not what I'm talking about.)

Those readers now come from around the globe, even to the South Succotash Gazette, if it has a decent Web site. We can grouse all we want about how those folks are not the traffic "we" want- they don't buy anything locally. But for the AP, they are its new readers.

They are also the readers of many of the new-media businesses the wire service covets serving.

So expect to see state names spelled out, if not this time around, then very shortly, especially since CEO Tom Curley recently said that newspapers now provide only 20 percent of AP's revenue and that it effectively subsidizes them with other services.


But why keep the state abbreviations in datelines? Let's just make things more complicated, as it already is, in spades, with AP's number style.

Numbers: I once again have urged the powers that be to simplify their number style to spelling out one to nine for everything except where there is a dollar sign or some other symbol before it, or where it traditionally is used as a numeral, such as dates and recipes.

The Wall Street Journal has done it quite successfully for years.

(Or, if you want to, go all figures. Just simplify that hydra-headed mess!)

Quotes: In some round-about logic, I've actually concluded that seeming to make things more complicated with quotes actually will simplify things.

AP simplified things a few years ago when it mandated that abbreviations, such as months, states, and things like Sen. and No. 1, be used in all cases. Until then, a few, such as "Senator" and "Governor" when used as titles had been spelled out in quotes but abbreviated in regular text. There were a select few, however, and that made it confusing.

So AP did simplify things, except when you talk to students. For the ones I talk to, spelling out in a quotation is the more natural of the two ways to go. Their reasoning: I don't say "Jan.," I say "January"; I don't say "N.H.," I say New Hampshire; I say "number one," etc.

So in this case, I'd say AP should consider going back to the old way, only with a much-expanded list of things to spell out.

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At 11/23/10, 5:42 PM, Blogger vtuss said...


Just curious: Was the AP example something you cut-and-pasted or typed in? Namely, did AP sent out a note to a bunch of editors with a typo (major in the first reference, mayor in the second) in it? I'll post it on the entry on the ACES forum, too.

At 11/23/10, 5:51 PM, Blogger Downes said...

I wish they'd spell them out. I'm tired of reading 'CA' and wondering whether they mean "California" or "Canada".

At 11/23/10, 5:52 PM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

It's how Teresa had it up there. I don't know whether she cut and pasted or typed it in.

At 11/23/10, 5:53 PM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

Well, of course under AP, there would be no confusion, since it never uses postal codes except in the rare case of putting a mailing address in a story (in a graphic is a bit different).

AP: California = Calif.
Canada = Canada :)

At 11/23/10, 8:48 PM, Blogger Teresa said...

Just to be clear, AP didn't send that out as a notice. They sent it to ACES seeking input.
I think it's a fair question to ask. And I appreciate them asking.....

(And I cut-pasted the comment)

At 11/24/10, 2:42 PM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

Thanks for that. Wasn't trying to imply it was a notice that had moved on the wire, but to some select folks. I had heard from one other person who received or had heard something similar - I wasn't clear exactly ...

But more important, I'm glad to see AP approaching ACES on this. Follows up, to some extent, on my suggestion in Philly that AP establish an advisory panel on such things. It will serve the wire service well.


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