DEAR READERS: Missourian stylebook ready for its annual update

Sunday, March 17, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 1:29 p.m. CDT, Thursday, April 11, 2013

COLUMBIA — "I respectfully disagree," says the poster-size piece of paper on the newsroom wall. 

It's the place for Missourian staff members to write their concerns or quarrels with listings in the "Columbia Missourian Stylebook and Guide to Mid-Missouri." And, for the most part, the postings indeed are respectful.

The postings are the starting point for what has become an annual updating of the stylebook. Any news organization worth its barrels of ink has its own stylebook, and and the Missourian certainly fit in that category.

The stylebook serves as the primary resource for writers and editors to consult for preferred usage. We supplement the local listings with "The Associated Press Stylebook." There are times when we disagree with that venerable publication, though, and, in those cases, we write an entry that overrides AP style. 

Some years, this revision means a handful of new entries and a few tweaks to existing entries. Other years, we go all out with a major expansion including new sections and features.

When I started here about 10 years ago, my fellow news editor dug up a copy of the stylebook. It was a 34-page spiral-bound booklet with an alphabetical listing of local entries. Published in 2000, it was an update of the 1997 edition, also spiral bound with an aqua cover and 37 pages.

It was updated again in 2003 with new entries and a 46-page design style section. We took a break until 2006 when Rebecca Zipfel, a graduate student, re-edited and redesigned the book from front to back. It grew to 99 pages. She was the originator of the Guide to Mid-Missouri section of the book.

By the 2007 edition, it bumped up to 102 pages. 

We rested for a year before the 105-page 2009 update by Allison McGee, also a graduate student who completed the work as her master's project. McGee took us into the digital world by producing both a print and an online version with links that made it possible to search it and go to websites of the listings. A simple click took you from the Columbia School Board to the School District's website — a sliced-bread moment in our stylebook's history.

It grew again for the 2011 update to 111 pages, but the major breakthrough of that year was the combining of the online version of the AP stylebook with the Missourian stylebook. Suddenly, from our desktops we could search one online source to see what's what without having to flip from one dead-tree book to the other — another sliced-bread moment. 

In 2012, we cut pages — down to 99 — because we deleted many pages from the Guide to Mid-Missouri section. We realized that most of the information there was and is readily available online and that a yearly printed update was out of date before the book was published. The other major change was another revision of the design section.

Work has started on this year's revision, too. It's probably more accurate to say that we're starting to think about the revisions. The I Respectfully Disagree sheet was rather uncluttered compared to some previous years, so it doesn't seem as if there will be much more than tweaks. But, that design section is going to be sliced and diced again as we take a closer look at those issues, deciding what best reflects today's design motifs and how the Missourian can lead the industry. Plus, there's that online stuff — we'll most likely be responding to those forces again, too.

So, here's an invitation to all of you to make suggestions for improving the Missourian's stylebook. If you have suggestions, feel free to send them along. Just like the Respectfully Disagree sheet, we won't promise to initiate all of them, but we will consider them.

We stirred up some excitement on National Grammar Day on March 4 by handing out grammar reminders printed on business-size cards. The copy editing students said they had fun as ambassadors for the world of word usage. They handed out about 1,100 cards and a few lollipops to sweeten the deal.

Participants in the's Show Me the Errors contest show their appreciation for the fact-checking and word usage portions of copy editing every month. During February, there were nine participants in the contest with a total of 20 submissions. The winner of the drawing for the monthly contest is Jim Terry. He will receive a Missourian T-shirt and a copy of "The Professor and The Madman" by Simon Winchester.

Maggie Walter is an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and an interactive news editor at The folks at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Columbia have asked me to come talk about dictionaries at their Sunday morning gathering at 9 a.m. on March 24. It's a repeat performance from a presentation in the fall at Osher Lifelong Learning. So, if you want to join in, come on over. I think they promised coffee and doughnuts.

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James Terry March 17, 2013 | 2:15 p.m.

One little thing that has bugged me: possessives for designating genders of sports teams. I don't know what your stylebook recommends on this, but I've noticed consistent inconsistency in the Missourian. I think all should be treated as standard plural possessives:
boys' basketball
men's basketball
girls' basketball
women's basketball.
I can't imagine any justification for doing it differently.

(Report Comment)
John Schultz March 17, 2013 | 7:32 p.m.

Does the guidebook contain the Missourian's ridiculous requirement that the apparent race of a criminal suspect not be listed, unless at least two other descriptive elements are also present (please help me out with the exact phrasing of the policy if I butchered it)?

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith March 18, 2013 | 11:34 a.m.

@ John Schultz:

So you too failed Political Correctness 101?

Aus Hoeflich. [I anticipate a new prohibition, barring use of foreign words and phrases. :)]

(Report Comment)
Richard Saunders March 18, 2013 | 5:19 p.m.

How about NOT pandering to government officials, but instead, putting them in the hot seat? Most of the articles I see anywhere these days read more like press releases than actual investigative reporting.

Or is that passé?

(Report Comment)

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