March 28, 2019

This time of year brings joy and pain to grammar lovers as The Associated Press announces changes to the AP Stylebook at the annual conference for ACES: The Society for Editing.

That’s coming Friday.

But first, some solace.

As of Thursday, people who create a free account at can search PDFs of stylebooks and guides going back to 1900. The archives include the 1933 guide for filing editors, the 1939 “Wirephoto: Miracle of Modern Newsgathering,” and the first edition of the modern stylebook from 1953.

“We shared a few select snippets from the historical guides at last year’s ACES conference and the reaction was so enthusiastic that we wanted to make them available to as many language lovers as possible,” said Colleen Newvine, AP Stylebook product manager, in an email. “It’s great for us to be able to visit the AP Corporate Archives and see these well-preserved documents, but now anyone else who wants to see how the news business or AP style has evolved can do that, too.”

Here are some of the guidelines of grammar standards gone by:

From the 1909 edition:

“The use of the word ‘phone’ for telephoned and ‘phoned’ for telephoned and similar abbreviations are prohibited in the Associated Press.”

From the 1911 Instructions for Correspondents (Image courtesy Associated Press)

From the 1911 “Instructions for correspondents”:

Class of news not wanted:

ABORTIONS; except when the victim is well known and dies.

BASEBALL; unless ordered.

CANDIDATES for office of any kind, unless ordered.

DEATHS, unless for individuals of having at least a state reputation.

DISEASES; unless decidedly epidemic.

DROWNINGS; unless of two or more persons, or unless the person was well known.

ELOPEMENTS; unless the persons have a national reputation.

FOOTBALL; unless ordered.



MARRIAGES; unless ordered, or unless the contracting parties have a national reputation.

PRIZE FIGHTERS; movements of principals, their managers or trainers.

RACES of any kind, unless ordered.

RAPE; except when the perpetrator is pursued by a mob.


SOCIAL events of any kind.

SUITS, for libel; for the infringements of copyrights or patents, etc.; damage suits against individuals, firms or corporations.

WEATHER stories, other than storms as previously specified, unless ordered.

A guide for writers, 1931 (Image courtesy Associated Press)

And from 1931’s “A Guide for Writers”:

Fakes “Ballyhoos”: Tactics employed by some interests to gain publicity have necessitated watchfulness to preclude being victimized by misleading or faked stories. The offerings of press agents and publicity seekers are scrutinized carefully. Legitimate news is used, regardless of its source. The staff is especially skeptical of persons interested financially in sporting events, notably boxing and wrestling matches because some efforts to obtain “ballyhoo” have been notorious.

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
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

More News

Back to News


Comments are closed.

  • as a former Unipresser, I wonder if UPI’s old stylebooks are online;-)