May 31, 2017

Fake news has finally made its way into the AP Stylebook.

The 2017 edition of the Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law came out Wednesday, and the latest version includes a number of changes that show both the evolution of language and the times we live in.

For instance, there’s a new entry on fact checks and fake news. Here’s the first half of it:

fact checks, fake news

Holding politicians and public figures accountable for their words often requires reporting or research to verify facts that affirm or disprove a statement, or that show a gray area.

Fact-checking also is essential in debunking fabricated stories or parts of stories done as hoaxes, propaganda, jokes or for other reasons, often spread widely on the internet and mistaken as truth by some news consumers.

The term fake news may be used in quotes or as shorthand for the modern phenomenon of deliberate falsehoods or fiction masked as news circulating on the internet.

However, do not label as fake news specific or individual news items that are disputed. If fake news is used in a quote, push for specifics about what is meant. Alternative wording includes false reports, erroneous reports, unverified reports, questionable reports, disputed reports or false reporting, depending on the context.

In all cases, the goal of fact-checking is to push back on falsehoods, exaggeration and political spin. Be specific in describing what is false and back up those descriptions with facts.

After years of debate, “singular they” as a non-gendered pronoun also makes a debut in this edition. Here’s part of the new entry on gender:

Not synonymous with sex. Gender refers to a person’s social identity while sex refers to biological characteristics. Not all people fall under one of two categories for sex or gender, according to leading medical organizations, so avoid references to both, either or opposite sexes or genders as a way to encompass all people. When needed for clarity or in certain stories about scientific studies, alternatives include men and women, boys and girls, males and females.

Language around gender is evolving. Newsrooms and organizations outside AP may need to make decisions, based on necessity and audience, on terms that differ from or are not covered by AP’s specific recommendations.

There’s a whole new chapter on data journalism. That chapter offers guidance on collecting data, how to evaluate sources, writing with numbers and data visualization. For instance:

Clarity in design
— Use as few fonts as possible. Use either bold or italic to differentiate but not both.
— Use color to convey or highlight information, not as decoration.
— Use as few elements as possible to keep visuals clean and crisp. Complexity should be added only when it conveys additional information.

And Walmart no longer gets a hyphen. Mostly.

Walmart, Wal-Mart
The retailer’s legal name is Wal-Mart Stores Inc. but it brands itself as Walmart. Use Walmart when writing generally about the company, including Walmart stores. Also include the legal name lower in the story in reports specific to its corporate results or corporate structure. Headquarters is in Bentonville, Arkansas.

Many of these changes are announced throughout the year and available to AP customers with the online stylebook. The hardcopy of the book, now available, costs about $23 retail. AP Stylebook editor Paula Froke will talk with users via a Twitter chat Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. ET. You can join in using #APStyleChat.

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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