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Style: Journalism’s rules of the road

Clark Hoyt, the former New York Times public editor, wrote a column responding to readers’ complaints about that newspaper’s style. “A newspaper has to have rules, the linguistic equivalent of driving on the right side of the road and stopping at red lights, to avoid chaos for readers,” he said. Style is something most of us take for granted, unless a story or publication doesn’t follow a style. Then we tend to trip over the words. Inconsistencies make the words less clear. Most newspapers follow the AP Stylebook, although large newspapers like The New York Times often have their own stylebook. Smaller papers may use the AP Stylebook and supplement it with a local guide that spells out usage for local items. In Detroit, for instance, our stylebook said it was OK to refer to Eight Mile without spelling out Eight Mile Road. Even before Eminem made it famous, Detroiters knew what Eight Mile meant. But AP is the style czar for many news outlets. As you learn AP’s rules, you may wonder who decides its website and not Web site or cell phone  not cellphone. David Minthorn, deputy standards editor of the Associated Press, writes an Ask the Editor column and explains many of the decisions. I did a Q and A with Minthorn this summer after the latest revision of the stylebook was published. Q and A with AP Stylebook editor

Read the Hoyt column, the Minthorn Q and A, and check out the Ask the Editor column by clicking on the links in this post. Your assignment: In the appropriate comments section below, tell me your reaction to both the Hoyt and Minthorn pieces. Then tell me what you’d like to Ask the Editor if you were writing a question for the author of the AP Stylebook. This is due by the start of class on Monday, Sept. 20. Remember style, spelling, grammar and good writing count when I evaluate your comments. This is, after all, an editing class.

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