Many years ago, the Notebook earned a living as a copy editor and the “three little words” were not I love you, but rather, “look it up.” This coming from one of those gruff, picky-picky-picky editor-types in large newsrooms. The Stylebook was almost a constant companion.
The 2013 Associated Press Stylebook is coming out soon and will feature more than 90 changes from last year. The changes are considered annually by Stylebook co-editors based upon suggestions from the public, journalism schools and news organizations that make up the AP cooperative.
This year, the Stylebook recommends discontinuance of the term “illegal immigrant.” Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren asked: “Does the word change solve any problem, or is it just a distraction?” Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute says it’s a matter of accuracy. “We can’t use words that don’t accurately convey what reality is, especially in a casual, dismissive sort of way. What happens, in most cases, is the words become more humanizing and less dismissive or alienating. If you look at any political debate – civil rights, gay rights – any of these issues, the words we have used over time have changed when we talk about describing human beings.”
Time was, “illegal alien” was the popular term, which morphed into “illegal immigrant,” which is being 86’ed from usage. The term “sexual preference” had a similar transition to “sexual orientation.” Now you hardly see either, given how gay rights is part of the national lexicon and debate. The term Negro is seldom seen in news reporting, as is “illegitimate child.” Less politically charged words, too, are modified via the Stylebook, such as “under” “way” now being one word along with “website.”
The AP has been producing Stylebooks since 1953 and it has evolved into a compendium of several thousand terms and usages, accepted spellings, formats and guidance. (One term that always bugged me was “scofflaw.” Really? I used to ask.) Followers of the AP Stylebook extend beyond the AP news cooperative. (The Sheridan Press is a longtime member.) The original concept remains unchanged: to provide a uniform presentation of the written word so that news stories — AP or otherwise — have a common standard that is understandable.
• The first Stylebook was 60 pages and cost $1. It was stapled together and had a bright green cover.
• In the mid-1970s, the AP and membership of United Press International got together to resolve common style differences. In 1977, the Stylebook was 277 pages.
• Today’s Stylebook has 450 pages and includes guidelines on Internet usage, social media usage; guidelines on sports, fashion, food, business. It’s $15, paperback.
They Said It
“With Google, I’m starting to burn out on knowing the answer to everything. People in the year 2020 are going to be nostalgic for the sensation of feeling clueless.”
–Doug Coupland, Canadian author/visual artist