Wednesday, April 23, 2014

AP Style - spell out those state names

I'm not sure why there's all this kerfuffle over AP's directive today that as of May 1 the style is to spell out all state names in text.

It is after all the World Wide Web. We've known it was coming. AP's style keepers first broached this, what, four years ago at the American Copy Editors Society meeting in Philadelphia (to gasps, of course that made them quickly rethink)?

Yeah, it's going to mean reprogramming all those autopilot things we do. But that shouldn't be hard. I mean, really, you think it's easier to remember all those abbreviations -- and then remember not to use the postal codes that surround us -- instead of just spelling out? (OK, you'll have to remember what your elementary school teacher taught you about Mis-sis-sippi, or that it's ConneCticut. But really?)

My students are probably cheering right now.

We live in a digital world -- emphasis on world -- where someone in India can just as easily read our stuff as they can down the street. Just this week, one of my student's stories was published not only in local papers but was picked up on a martial arts publication based (I think) in Hong Kong.

OK, you can stamp your feet, if you want over underway for under way and over allowed for more than. Reasonable people can disagree over the usage/spelling evolution continuum. But whether to abbreviate state names? That's a pure style construct, nothing else. There is no inherent goodness in abbreviating 42 states and D.C. (So why, again, were Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Texas and Utah the favored children -- or odd man out, depending on your view? There were well-stated reasons, but there was no unalterable truth. It's just a reasoned decision, folks, nothing more, just as this new style change is.)

Yeah, it's still a little convoluted; the AP still says to use the abbreviations in datelines. And I think the guidance to avoid using state abbreviations in headlines just goes against reality in a printed product (the problem with these kinds of changes is that they tend to be broad-brush). But whatever. We can deal with it.

In some ways, I see all the hooha as the result of two things:
  • OMG, AP is chipping away again at the sacred texts that allow us journalists, and especially copy editors, to be high priests. Man the bulwarks. Shibboleths alert!
  • There is a bit of teaching envy in the halls of academe (why do I have to change this stuff every year for journalism class when the math teacher will always be able to teach 2+2=4?)

Welcome to 2014. If you wanted to be able to teach the same thing year after year, you should have gotten a physics degree (wait, that changes too, but at a relatively glacial pace compared with what the Internet has done to language).

Here's the next thing: We might go to putting the year with all dates. Same reasoning - it can be read around the world (maybe the universe before long) and stories have a long tail.

Now, if the AP will just address its gawdaful cornucopia of number styles, we can all go back to drinking. My suggestion continues to be spell out everything one to nine unless it is preceded by a dollar sign or some other symbol.

Or use all numbers, for all I care. For compactness, that might be the better solution.

I can count the howls now.


Here is the AP's style note:
SPELL OUT: The names of the 50 U.S. states should be spelled out when used in the body of a story, whether standing alone or in conjunction with a city, town, village or military base. No state name is necessary if it is the same as the dateline. This also applies to newspapers cited in a story. For example, a story datelined Providence, R.I., would reference the Providence Journal, not the Providence (R.I.) Journal. See datelines.



   EIGHT NOT ABBREVIATED: The names of eight states are never abbreviated in datelines or text: Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Ohio, Texas and Utah.



   Memory Aid: Spell out the names of the two states that are not part of the contiguous United States and of the continental states that are five letters or fewer.



   IN THE BODY OF STORIES: Except for cities that stand alone in datelines, use the state name in textual material when the city or town is not in the same state as the dateline, or where necessary to avoid confusion: Springfield, Massachusetts, or Springfield, Illinois. Provide a state identification for the city if the story has no dateline, or if the city is not in the same state as the dateline. However, cities that stand alone in datelines may be used alone in stories that have no dateline if no confusion would result.



   ABBREVIATIONS REQUIRED: Use the state abbreviations listed at the end of this section:



   â?"In conjunction with the name of a city, town, village or military base in most datelines. See datelines for examples and exceptions for large cities.



   â?"In lists, agate, tabular material, nonpublishable editor's notes and credit lines.



   â?"In short-form listings of party affiliation: D-Ala., R-Mont. See party affiliation entry for details.



   Following are the state abbreviations, which also appear in the entries for each state (postal code abbreviations in parentheses):



Ala. (AL)    Md. (MD)      N.D. (ND)



Ariz. (AZ)   Mass. (MA)    Okla. (OK)



Ark. (AR)    Mich. (MI)    Ore. (OR)



Calif. (CA)  Minn. (MN)    Pa. (PA)



Colo. (CO)   Miss. (MS)    R.I. (RI)



Conn. (CT)   Mo. (MO)      S.C. (SC)



Del. (DE)    Mont. (MT)    S.D. (SD)



Fla. (FL)    Neb. (NE)     Tenn. (TN)



Ga. (GA)     Nev. (NV)     Vt. (VT)



Ill. (IL)    N.H. (NH)     Va. (VA)



Ind. (IN)    N.J. (NJ)     Wash. (WA)



Kan. (KS)    N.M. (NM)     W.Va. (WV)



Ky. (KY)     N.Y. (NY)     Wis. (WI)



La. (LA)     N.C. (NC)     Wyo. (WY)



   These are the postal code abbreviations for the eight states that are not abbreviated in datelines or text: AK (Alaska), HI (Hawaii), ID (Idaho), IA (Iowa), ME (Maine), OH (Ohio), TX (Texas), UT (Utah). Also: District of Columbia (DC).



   Use the two-letter Postal Service abbreviations only with full addresses, including ZIP code.



   PUNCTUATION: Place one comma between the city and the state name, and another comma after the state name, unless ending a sentence or indicating a dateline: He was traveling from Nashville, Tennessee, to Austin, Texas, en route to his home in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She said Cook County, Illinois, was Mayor Daley's stronghold.



   HEADLINES: Avoid using state abbreviations in headlines whenever possible.



   MISCELLANEOUS: Use New York state when necessary to distinguish the state from New York City.



   Use state of Washington or Washington state when necessary to distinguish the state from the District of Columbia. (Washington State is the name of a university in the state of Washington.)




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4 Comments:

At 5/13/14, 2:53 PM, Anonymous A.J. Hensley said...

My issues:

1. Datelines remain unchanged. If AP is concerned about international clarity or whatever, this should be changed as well.

2. AP has always gone the shorter version is better route: no Oxford comma; canceled, not cancelled; etc. Again, inconsistent.

2. AP just handed down another edict about the unnecessary length of most "mid-level news copy." (Washington Post did a story about it.) Citing lack of regional editors to handle the copy and a lack of reader interest in long stories, AP laid down the law about the length of such stories, capping them at 500 words. Georgia and Ga. are both one word, certainly, but spelling out every state listed in every story shortens copy not one iota.

 
At 5/13/14, 3:24 PM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

Used to be that if we went over 500 words on most stories we needed a note from God. So good to see the creep be pared back.

I agree AP is being inconsistent in this with datelines and legislative IDs.

But my overall point is that it is style. The brouhaha isn't worth wasting the time on. If people don't like it, just don't follow it.

The reality here is that AP is not beholden to newspapers anymore for much of its revenue and it will do what it deems best in its economic interest. C'est la guerre.

 
At 5/13/14, 3:52 PM, Anonymous A.J. Hensley said...

C'est la pure vérité.

 
At 5/22/14, 6:54 PM, Anonymous Bethe said...

I have a BA and MS in Journalism (Baylor & Texas Christian University) and have had a career in marketing/PR for the past decade. As someone who writes for a living and LOVES all things journalism, I geeked out a bit when I found your blog on a random AP Google search. I will be a happy new subscriber!

 

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