AP changes style on District of Columbia references

The "District" in "District of Columbia" can now be capitalized on second reference, AP said in a Stylebook update in March. (I didn't notice it until AP reporter Ben Nuckols tweeted about it this morning; this change was overshadowed somewhat by AP's shift on "over" and "more than," one of the most important events in Stylebook history.)

District of Columbia Abbreviate as D.C. in datelines or stories. Postal code: DC. Do not use D.C. in conjunction with the federal district of Washington unless it could be confused with other Washingtons. On second reference, the District is acceptable.

The lowercase "D" was but a minor pillar in the hall of injustices visited upon the residents of the nation's capital -- taxation without representation being a more pressing issue to many residents -- but it did rankle some journalists. Last month Martin Austermuhle, a reporter for the D.C. radio station WAMU, wrote an impassioned plea to AP asking it to let journalists hit the shift key: "The small-d treatment is demeaning," he wrote, "the District of Columbia isn’t a real city, it hints, but merely a 'district' no different than the political entity that may control your local school."

Many D.C.-area media outlets already ignored the rule and capped the "D" on second reference, Austermuhle wrote. "Why? Because they cater to a local audience, the same types of locals that might do a second take if they saw a sentence referring to 'district officials' in a story about D.C."

Related: 5 AP style changes illustrated with GIFs

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at TBD.com and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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