Pressing Issues

Buy latest AP Stylebook, use it

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Since it wasn't an official federal holiday, many of you may have missed National Grammar Day, which quietly passed without any fanfare March 4.  The noncelebration event was established in 2008 by author Martha Brockenbrough, also founder of the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar.

Despite her stellar efforts, grammar, spelling and other writing errors still crop up too often in my classroom assignments and in media outlets. Perhaps a concerted effort should be unleashed for National Associated Press Stylebook Day, or Month, or even Year. 

The AP Stylebook – with an older history – started as a 60-page stapled edition in 1953. Now over 600 pages, it's called the journalist's bible for a reason. Unfortunately, adherence to its guidelines has been hit and miss. 

Gary Pruitt, AP president and CEO, wrote in the foreword of the latest printing:

"However you choose to access it – in print, online or via an app on your smartphone – The Associated Press Stylebook remains an essential tool in newsrooms, classrooms and boardrooms alike, the bible for journalists and anyone who cares about good writing."

Journalists who subscribe to the online or app editions have the advantages of portability as well as receiving updates throughout the year, rather than waiting for the annual edition to list them on the "What's New" page.  

I've visited and worked in a few newsrooms across the country where their stylebooks have often been several years old. Since a revised version is available every year, it's crucial to follow the latest mandates from AP. The opening page of the stylebook traditionally points out all the latest features in the latest publication. In fact, 2018's edition lists about 200 such new and revised items.     

These changes include:

  • The word emoji is now acceptable for the plural form.
  • 3D needs no hyphen.
  • Breastfeed, breastfeeding and beastfed need no hyphen.
  • Survivor and victim terms can have political/legal implications.
  • Homepage and smartwatch are one word.
  • The old maxim that two objects must be in motion before they collided is eliminated.
  • Numbers allowed to begin sentences expanded from just the year (2019) to include number-and-letter combinations (4K).

Several rules are not new, but seem to be frequently ignored, by both print and online  journalists. It's necessary to include from when talking about one who graduated: I graduated from Texas A&M, not I graduated Texas A&M. This AP transgression is often heard on television news as well.

A similar misapplication is the word notorious. Although AP now wavers on this one, I suggest your writers continue using that adjective in a negative context, not as a synonym for famous. That's another blunder you can catch on TV frequently.

Misused and difficult-to-spell words are listed individually in the A to Z section. A few entries in such categories are acknowledgment, adviser, canceled, en route, entitled, fewer/less,  impostor, include, occurred, OK, sergeant, vacuum, Walmart, Xerox and ZIP code.

If you thought Dr Pepper was eliminated from your stylebook, it's not.  That item (without a period) was moved to the food section near the back of the manual. Other helpful units include punctuation, business, data journalism, polls/surveys, social media, religion, sports, fashion and news values. 

The broadcast section has expanded to provide a dozen valuable writing tips. One is to use attribution at the beginning of a quote, since listeners cannot see quotation marks. Not listed, however, is to avoid abbreviations that can easily confuse broadcasters. For example, is St. saint or street?  Is Dr. drive or doctor? 

Other non-AP guidelines I give broadcast writing students are:

  • Capitalize key words (even if not proper nouns) so they will stand out for the narrator.
  • Spell out number eleven so it's not confused with the Roman numeral II.
  • Use combinations for large amounts (37-thousand dollars).

Long-time SNPA columnist Dr. Randy Hines is a former journalist who recently retired after 32 years of teaching at various universities. Now back in the classroom part-time, he is teaching at the University of North Georgia. He's authored two books: Print Matters: How to Write Great Advertising (Racom Books) and the 2019 third edition of The Writer's Toolbox (Kendall Hunt). He can be reached at randyhinesapr@yahoo.com.

AP Stylebook, Hines

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