PR Pros, Journalists Tackle Latest AP Stylebook

PR Pros, Journalists Tackle Latest AP Stylebook.

Image of PR Pros, Journalists Tackle Latest AP StylebookBy Luke O’Neill, Editor, Business Wire

June 4, 2014

Earlier this year, The Associated Press style editors created quite a disturbance in the journalistic Force when they announced changes to their stylebook. AP style purists, myself included, were aghast.

The word “over” is now acceptable in all cases to indicate greater numerical value. Previously, the phrase “more than” was the preferred term. So you can now write: “Salaries went up over $20 a week“instead of “more than $20.”

The “over” vs. “more than” decision, announced at the American Copy Editors Society conference in March, reportedly elicited gasps from the audience. The reactions since then have ranged from outrage – some of it tongue-in-cheek – to a get-over-it mentality.

But that was only one of many recent changes, some of which were accepted more easily than others. One approved change was in the format of state names within articles. AP style editors announced in April that state names would now be spelled out within the body of stories to ensure consistency in domestic and international stories.

And, in case you missed it, the AP Stylebook 2014 print edition just launched May 28.

Style Matters

If the (over)reactions to the style changes has taught us anything it is that style matters and is deeply valued by news editors.

As we at Business Wire frequently discuss, public relations professionals who speak the media’s language continue to garner greater credibility among journalists. AP style is important for both writer and reader as it encourages consistency and clarity.

AP style is a “foundation to which communicators can refer when creating content,” Mark McClennan, senior vice president at PR firm MSLGROUP Boston and Public Relations Society of America national treasurer, wrote in an email.

It is important to note that although  AP ruled the word “over” as  acceptable to indicate greater numerical value – its usage isnot mandatory. You can still use “more than.” I suggest you turn a blind eye to the AP’s change and reserve “over” for spatial relationships.

The AP said “over” is acceptable because it evolved and became common usage. The change is noteworthy since it is a style element that appears so often in editorial copy.

In a blog, McClennan urged the AP to reconsider its “over” ruling. He does not agree with the reason for the change and encourages PR pros to keep using “more than.”

“I am very disappointed with the recent AP Stylebook changes,” said McClennan,. “AP was clear in many of these changes that they were broadening what is acceptable, not eliminating past practice.”

Getting Over ‘Over’

The Columbia Journalism Review noted that “over” has been in use for centuries when referring to quantities.

A Poynter blog noted the style change is a sign of the times – then the author threw this painful yet truthful haymaker: “As the volume of content available for consumption has grown, it seems logical that we have altered the precision with which we use our words…. And if you want to remain a relevant and effective influence, you cannot insist on enforcing standards that large numbers of people ignore or misunderstand.” Ouch.

Fred Vultee, associate professor of journalism at Wayne State University and an American Copy Editors Society board member, said he likes the “over” change.

“The best thing about the ‘over’ ruling is it doesn’t tell writers they should or shouldn’t do anything,” Vultee wrote in an email. “It just tells people not to worry about a colloquial usage that has made perfectly good sense for centuries.”

Vultee said he’ll still write “more than” in most cases. And he suspects most people he knows, who approve the “over” change, will also still write “more than.”

Create Your Own Style(book)

One way to ensure adoption of these changes is to create your own in-house stylebook featuring AP best practices particular to your commonly used words.

“A style guide is part of the rulebook for the conversations your organization has with its audiences, whether you’re in news or in PR,” said Vultee. “If a change in the rulebook helps you and your audience have that conversation more clearly, or if it fits better with your mutual understanding of how culture and society work, it’s a good change.”

About the Author:  Luke O’Neill, formerly a newspaper reporter and copy editor, is an editor at Business Wire Boston. He has nearly 15 years of communications experience and a master’s degree in journalism.