ACES

ACES: AP’s guidance on suicide terms shows sensitivity

ACES

On Friday at the American Copy Editors Society conference, The Associated Press revealed some of the upcoming changes to the 2015 AP Stylebook, and among them is updated guidance on suicide terms.

From our earlier story with the AP’s David Minthorn:

With stories about suicide, the AP now recommends not going into details.

“The guidance also says that we avoid using the term committed suicide except in direct quotations from authorities.”

Instead used “killed himself, took her own life or died by suicide.”

“Committed in that context suggests possibly an illegal act, but in fact, laws against suicide have been repealed in the U.S., at least in certain states, and many other places,” Minthorn said, “so we’re going to avoid using that term on our own, although it’s a term that authorities widely use and we will use it while quoting authorities.”

After those changes and others were shared at the ACES conference, ACES sent out a press release in support of the AP’s guidance on suicide terms. From that release:

For many years, the changes to the Stylebook that have caused the biggest waves have to do with long-time grammar rules being changed, but ACES is supportive of the direction the group went with sensitivity because of the direction journalism, writing and social media are moving.

“While we, as copy editors, might get more riled up about state abbreviations or making website one word, these types of changes aren’t likely to change lives,” (ACES President Teresa) Schmedding said. “But how we handle suicide and style issues on that level, will. Today’s story on the co-pilot of the Germanwings plane crash is a prime example of the need for consistency and responsible coverage when editors need to make style decisions on information of this kind quickly.”

Related – NPR editor: be careful using ‘suicide’ in Germanwings case Read more

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AP Stylebook change: BLT is now acceptable on first reference

BLT. Delicious and OK on first reference.

BLT. Delicious and OK on first reference.

On Friday morning, people at the American Copy Editors Society conference will get a preview of some of the changes coming to the 2015 edition of The Associated Press Stylebook. I asked David Minthorn, the AP Stylebook’s co-editor, about those changes and what people might freak out about.

“We’re never quite sure what people may be excited about,” Minthorn said. “But for example, we have two amended spellings of datelines that might be of interest.”

One of those datelines is Nepal’s capital.

“Now it’s K-A-T-H-M-A-N-D-U,” Minthorn said. “We felt it was time to conform with local preferences, and I think the dictionary also uses the that spelling.”

OK. That doesn’t seem melt-down worthy. And the AP doesn’t make these changes lightly, Minthorn said.

“We don’t normally make style. We reflect usage, in our view. We’re not trying to get ahead of the game. When we make a change, almost always it reflects the reality of language use and what’s happening in vernacular speech or idiomatic speech or in the case of social media, popular social media terms that are having an impact.”

Updating the stylebook is a year-round project, Minthorn said. This is his eighth edition, and he worked with editors Paula Froke and Sally Jacobsen. This year’s stylebook has 300 new or revised terms, and changes are made from studying usage and an annual survey.

“Some pan out, some are, shall we say, ahead of their time, some don’t make sense at all,” Minthorn said. “We look at them all, though.”

Here’s some of what’s coming in the latest edition, due out in late May:

‘Favorite’ and ‘meme’ have been added:

I asked Minthorn to read these twice: “Favorite: A button that a Twitter user can click to express approval for a tweet, and/or to bookmark that tweet, and any associated links, for later consumption. Also, the act of clicking on this button.”

And “Meme: A piece of information, such as a cultural practice or idea, that’s shared verbally or transmitted widely, often in social media.”

There’s a chapter for social guidelines, but this year, the online lexicon has been moved into the A-Z section.

There are lots of small changes in the sports section:

Elite Eight and Final Four are now capitalized.

Figure skating jumps, moves and spins are all lower case, “even if named after someone.”

The stylebook also standardized some basketball and baseball terms.

An entry on suicide has been added:

AP’s policy on suicide is to only cover suicide and attempted suicide if the person is well-known, the circumstances are unusual or it’s publicly disruptive, Minthorn said.

“We’re specifying this for our staff, although it’s kind of an inner AP guideline,” he said.

With stories about suicide, the AP now recommends not going into details.

“The guidance also says that we avoid using the term committed suicide except in direct quotations from authorities.”

Instead used “killed himself, took her own life or died by suicide.”

“Committed in that context suggests possibly an illegal act, but in fact, laws against suicide have been repealed in the U.S., at least in certain states, and many other places,” Minthorn said, “so we’re going to avoid using that term on our own, although it’s a term that authorities widely use and we will use it while quoting authorities.”

There’s an expanded entry on climate change:

Global warming and climate change can be used interchangeably. This isn’t an addition, but an elaboration on why.

“We say that climate change is more accurate scientifically, but global warming is a widely used term and is understood by the public to encompass climate change.”

Stop writing ‘execution-style’:

“It’s a widely used term in news reporting, and we’re cautioning against using it,” Minthorn said.

The new guidance is to avoid it because the term means different things to different people. If necessary, be specific.

“We’re not banning the term, we’re saying avoid it.”

Wicca and Wiccan are now in the religion section:

They’re capitalized on all uses.

BLT is OK on first reference:

This makes sense. Also in the food chapter is the term craft brewery instead of microbrewery.

“We’re suggesting craft brewery is more precise or a better explanation for what’s happening in the brewing industry.”

These probably won’t cause the ballyhoo that they did last year (when the AP announced that over was acceptable in place of more than. You remember.) If you’re still itching for some good knuckle rapping, here are notes from “20 nagging errors made by the experienced and inexperienced alike,” from The Washington Post’s Bill Walsh. And from last year, “AP’s year of freaking out language geeks.”

Correction: Elite Eight and Final Four had numerals in an earlier version of this story. They should be spelled out. Read more

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Copy editors’ advice for the new year: ‘Slow down’

Two editors recently shared some useful tips to help journalists detect and prevent mistakes. A selection of their advice is below, and be sure to read both articles.

I’ll add to the offerings by pointing to my free downloadable accuracy checklist. Want to know why I’m such an advocate for checklists? You can read more in this post. It includes a basic overview, as well some slides and a liveblog of a workshop I gave at American University. I also recommend this post from Steve Buttry, which includes his own version of a checklist.

Copy Editing Tips

The first bit of accuracy advice comes from Pam Nelson, who writes the Grammar Guide blog for the American Copy Editors Society. She offered 10 tips for copy editors, though they can also be applied to writers. Writers should use a personal accuracy checklist to review their work before passing it to an editor. The reality is newsrooms have fewer sets of eyes checking each piece of copy, so it’s more essential than ever to be a great self editor.

Among the items Nelson says editors (and writers!) need to check are: spelling of names and places, dates, numbers and math. I also liked her point about checking directions:

8. If a story refers to a direction, check it. That may mean getting out a map and looking at the direction.

This is also good advice:

7. If a story uses a quote that seems off (a teacher misusing grammar, a politician or a law enforcement officer seeming to say the opposite of what you’d expect), check the quote with the writer. Sometimes a writer drops the “not” in a quote.

Resolutions

The second great collection of tips comes courtesy of Terence Walsh, assistant news editor at The Frederick News-Post. His article lists eight resolutions he’s made for this year. It’s a great complement to Nelson’s tips because Walsh’s resolutions are as much about mentality and approach as they are about practice. For example:

Slow down — just a little. Easier said than done, I know. Journalists always have a deadline, and maintaining a good, brisk working pace is essential if the copy desk is to get the paper out on time. When practical, however, the copy editor should take a few minutes to read the story and digest what is being said before making any changes beyond fixing an obvious typo. Making note of any questions you may have is a good idea, but read the whole story and make sure your question isn’t addressed before posing it to the writer or assigning editor. Any “big-picture” issues regarding libel, fairness and the like should be raised as early as possible so that more reporting can be done, a senior editor can be consulted, or the story can be held until the concerns can be addressed.

This resolution is also important:

If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. John McIntyre, night content production manager at The (Baltimore) Sun, says that a good copy editor knows when to leave things alone. Sounds simple and sensible, but it really isn’t. I’ve been on both sides of this equation: As a longtime copy editor, I can tell you it’s a pleasure to read a story that requires little to no editing. As a writer, I have had well-meaning copy editors make what I consider unnecessary and even bad changes to my work. Not every reporter or editor will agree with every change, but the copy editor should have a good reason why he or she made the change. Furthermore, inserting an error into a story is the cardinal sin of editing, one no editor wants to commit. In other words, make sure what you are “correcting” is actually incorrect.

Editors save writers from making mistakes. It happens all the time. But it’s also true that the editing process can introduce errors. This drives both writers and editors crazy. For a recent example, see this embarrassing typo that changed “herniated disk” to “herniated dick.”

Walsh’s other resolutions are worth reading. As is the full ACES post from Nelson — plus the great comments that offer additional tips. Read more

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