style guide

WaPo’s new publisher has ditched the BlackBerry

Fred Ryan is now an iPhone guy.

“What you may have heard is I’m so clumsy typing with my thumbs that I held on to my BlackBerry,” The Washington Post’s new publisher said in a phone call. These days, “I am purely iPhone — and, of course, Fire Phone,” he said, referring to the handset recently launched by Post owner Jeff Bezos’ other company, Amazon. (“You need to order one!” he said.)

As in previous interviews about his new job, Ryan, who previously was CEO and president of Politico and COO and president of the Allbritton Communications Company, declined to outline a specific strategy for how the Post would make money as print revenue declines and digital ad revenue fails to fill the gap. “I have not gone through the ad split or seen the specific numbers,” Ryan said.

Ryan in 2014. (John Shinkle/Politico)

Ryan. (John Shinkle/Politico)

Asked to speak broadly, he said, “You have to approach this from all sides. Certainly the editorial side, but also the business side, expecting it’s going to be a time of change, and change that we’re still yet to see in the media industry.”

Everyone at the Post, he said, must “be prepared for that: The way we do business, the way we reach our readers and consumers will continue to change dramatically.”

The Post has launched a number of digital initiatives and products since Bezos bought it last August. (Ryan, who told Joe Pompeo he still starts his day with the paper’s print edition, says he “absolutely” has explored its digital offerings: “I go on from there,” he said.)

Many of those ventures have been aimed at a national audience, such as its opinion venture, Post Everything. But what about the region the news organization has traditionally covered?

“There has been a strong national growth strategy, but that does not preclude winning local coverage at all,” Ryan said. “Covering Washington, D.C., incredibly well and being the dominant news sorurce for Washington is not fundamentally at odds with having a huge national and international forotprint.”

I asked Ryan about his comment that “a key for Wapo is winning the morning,” as media reporter Erik Wemple tweeted during Ryan’s first meeting with the newsroom.

“The morning is a very important time for all of us, but certainly to get our bearings and to learn what happeneed overnight,” he said. “I believe it’s a very important time to connect with readers.” Ryan said the Post has already launched “some impressive morning products” and declined to say whether he planned to urge it to launch more.

“Well, the one thing I said in the newsroom is I think we will all have a common vision, and we’ll all have a culture of innovation, but when it comes to launching new products, new blogs, we’re not going to telegraph the things that we’re doing because there are so many eyes watching,” he said.

I also asked him whether he planned to urge the Post to spell its name in all-caps, as he reportedly did with Politico’s.

“I think the Post name looks just fine,” he said.

(Post style on Politico’s name probably won’t change, either: Post copy editor Bill Walsh tells Poynter the paper’s style is to “capitalize only the first letter unless each letter is pronounced as a letter.”)

Disclosures: Wemple and I both worked for Allbritton. I never worked directly with Ryan, though I was strongly in favor of a style decision our publication,, made, to not capitalize Politico. I strongly dislike all-caps names except when writing about GWAR, a band that doesn’t come up that often on my current beat.

Correction: This post originally included a line that demonstrated how easily I fell for an April Fool’s joke. While Politico has traditionally sought to “win the morning,” it did not seriously instruct reporters to “Win the Dawn.” Read more

New York Times Executive Editor

NYT’s use of ‘illegal immigrant’ fell in 2013

The New York Times has opened Alexis Lloyd’s Chronicle tool to the public. Chronicle elegantly visualizes how often words and terms have appeared in the Times since 1851.

As an example, here’s how Lincoln, Roosevelt and Clinton came in and out of the news over the last 160+ years:


The tool is also handy for tracking language and style changes over time. Here’s a graph of the terms “illegal immigrant” and “undocumented”:


Last year, use of “undocumented” spiked and use of “illegal immigrant” fell sharply. That correlates with the Times’ April 2013 decision to tweak its style on the term “illegal immigrant.”

At the time, Associate Managing Editor for Standards Philip Corbett said some people “view the term as loaded or offensive.” Meanwhile, Corbett wrote, “undocumented” is “preferred by many immigrants and their advocates, but it has a flavor of euphemism and should be used with caution outside quotations.” It seems to have become more common in the Times anyway.

Of course, words that appear in the Times are not just reflective of terminology chosen by reporters and editors, but also of word choices by sources.

Democrats in Congress ramped up their use of “climate change” in 2013, according to FiveThirtyEight. In the Times, “climate change” has surpassed “global warming” in recent years despite a Yale study that found Americans hear and use the term “global warming” much more than “climate change”:


BuzzFeed’s Katie Notopoulos looked at more terms with Chronicle, including “millionaire” vs. “billionaire” and “Wal-Mart” vs. “Amazon.”

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AP: Lowercase ‘bitcoin’

AP issued an update to its stylebook Monday, including its much bruited change to “more than/over.” The whole update has some interesting stuff, including a ruling on something that’s vexed me before:

A digital currency created and exchanged independent of banks or governments. The currency can be converted into cash when deposited into accounts at prices set in online trading. Lowercase in all uses.

Earlier, AP said to capitalize “bitcoin” as “a concept.”

Other stuff: “LGBT” is acceptable on first reference, “selfie” is now in the Stylebook, and you conjugate “dis” thusly:

dis, dissing, dissed

And here’s the “more than/over” guidance:

more than, over
Acceptable in all uses to indicate greater numerical value. Salaries went up more than $20 a week. Salaries went up over $20 a week.

Read more
1 Comment

Could the term ‘undocumented American’ catch on with news organizations?

In the comments section of Jose Antonio Vargas’ 2012 Time article about the term “illegal immigrant,” a reader with the handle “Calipenguin” voiced a concern: “People like Vargas are trying to re-invent the English language to ‘soften’ the image of illegal aliens so that one day we can refer to them as ‘undocumented Americans.’ ”

Hey, Calipenguin, did you catch “Good Morning America” Tuesday? “A group called Define American has unveiled a new immigration symbol along with a video of undocumented Americans reciting the Pledge of Allegiance,” the morning show reported in a brief segment.

“Good Morning America” spokesperson Heather Riley tells Poynter via email the show “didn’t use that term in an editorial way, we were explaining the term that a group of people used to describe themselves.” Via email, Vargas, who founded Define American, tells Poynter he’s fine with that: “GMA and ABC News simply used the term to describe people,” he writes, noting the show didn’t put quotation marks around it on the Web. Read more

NPR Headquarters

NPR will use term ‘Obamacare’ less

Maynard Institute | Associated Press
NPR standards editor Stuart Seidel asked reporters and editors to “avoid overusing ‘Obamacare’” after the Maynard Institute’s Richard Prince wrote him saying “the term can no longer be defended as neutral.”

Seidel’s memo, Prince writes, says:

“‘Obamacare’ seems to be straddling somewhere between being a politically-charged term and an accepted part of the vernacular.

Read more
1 Comment

Journalists declare war…on ellipses


The job description of the ellipsis has changed, Matthew J.X. Malady writes. His emails, his text messages…full of three-point shots. Clay Shirky hypothesizes to him that “people are trying to use alphabets like we’re talking, and it’s … hard. So we reach for the ellipsis.”

Awl Editor Choire Sicha tells Malady he’s defeated his own overuse of ellipses, retraining himself to “send emails in complete sentences, with proper punctuation, like an adult person.”

At The Washington Post, using fewer ellipses is now an institutional imperative, judging by a July 17 memo from Managing Editor Emilio Garcia-Ruiz and Multiplatform Editor Jesse Lewis. “We’ve noticed an overuse of the ellipsis recently,” they write. Read more


Style guide aims to make it easier to cover stories like Plan B

When news broke that the Obama administration had abandoned its effort to maintain age restrictions on a form of emergency contraception called Plan B, Monte Morin described the medication using dispassionate and clear language:

Plan B One-Step, like the related two-pill Plan B, uses the synthetic hormone levonorgestrel to prevent pregnancy by blocking ovulation and impeding the mobility of sperm. Neither Plan B nor Plan B One-Step causes an abortion, nor does either harm a fetus.

Emotions run high around any news involving contraception or abortion, and news organizations do themselves and their audiences a real service when they deliver news in a fashion that allows readers to focus on the content of their stories rather than on how they’re presented.

That’s one reason why the Women’s Media Center’s newish “Media Guide to Covering Reproductive Issues” by Sarah Erdreich is an interesting read for anyone covering stories like Plan B. In its introduction, the guide says its professed goal is to “give reporters and media outlets factual, historic, legal, medical, polling and policy sources.” Read more


San Francisco Chronicle changes style on ‘illegal immigrant’

The San Francisco Chronicle changed its style on “illegal immigrant” Monday. It’s the latest of several publications to reconsider the term.

The newspaper’s new style will “essentially match” the Associated Press’ style on the term, David Steinberg, copy desk chief at the Chronicle, said in an email to Poynter.

Chronicle journalists are now advised not to refer to a person as “illegal” or as an “alien;” instead, “illegal” should only be used in describing the means by which they entered the country, and only with proper attribution. Read more


Timeline shows changes to AP style

Journalism in the Americas

“Ms.” arrived in 1980. “Illegal immigrant” entered in 2004 (and left this year). The hyphen in “e-mail” left the building in March 2011.

Zach Dyer catalogs these and other changes to the AP Stylebook since 1980 in a nifty interactive timeline. The news collective’s process for changing style is “fairly democratic,” he reports after a conversation with AP Deputy Standards Editor David Minthorn:

For a more controversial term, like “illegal immigrant,” Minthorn said the organization considered feedback from its editors, some of who cover immigration, and took a vote. “It wasn’t unanimous but there was a strong majority,” he observed.

Read more
1 Comment

AP changes style on ‘underway’: Copy editors react

Two days after changing its style on the term “illegal immigrant,” the Associated Press issued a Stylebook update that’s significant but in a much quieter way:

One word in all uses.

OK, it’s a big deal mostly to copy editors, many of whom have spent a good part of their professional lives jamming a space into “underway.”

Here’s the old listing:

under way Two words in virtually all uses: The project is under way. The naval maneuvers are under way.

One word only when used as an adjective before a noun in a nautical sense: an underway flotilla.

I surveyed a few copy-editing icons on whether the AP switch would occasion one at their organizations: Read more


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