DEAR READER: Helping readers navigate style changes in the news

Saturday, May 31, 2014 | 4:25 p.m. CDT; updated 1:13 p.m. CDT, Friday, September 12, 2014

COLUMBIA — As we prepare for the annual revisions and updates to the Columbia Missourian Stylebook, we also review those same items from the Associated Press Stylebook.

For the 2104 print edition, the AP has made more than 50 revisions and added a slew of new entries, including a separate chapter with 208 entries about religion and religious terms.

April's Show Me the Errors column highlighted the AP's decision to allow the use of "over" in situations that  previously were limited to the use of "more than" to show greater numerical value. For example, "She makes more than $50,000 annually" can now be reported as "She makes over $50,000 annually."

It's a small change, but it created a stir in the copy editing world. Some folks are still upset by it. But the catch is the AP said only that it is now OK; it doesn't say it recommends it. So, it's just fine to carry on as the editors at a news site deem appropriate.

Another change that simmered when it was originally announced has now reached the boiling stage, too.

Here's the AP's description of the new guideline: "The names of all 50 U.S. states should be spelled out when used in the body of a story. State names would continue to be abbreviated in most datelines ... ."

The AP Stylebook editors explained the change is needed for its growing international community of readers — the global world of news. References to cities and countries throughout Europe, Asia and Africa have long included the full name of the country after the name of the city. The exception is dateline cities. We know Paris is in France, London in England and Moscow in Russia. But what about Heidelberg? Or Bordeaux? Or Padua?  Would you be able to identify the locations based on the countries' abbreviations of DEU, FRA and ITA?

I'll confess, I had to look them up, though I'd like to think I would have figured out France and Italy. I suspect many others would have that same problem. So, is it reasonable to expect international readers to know the abbreviations for all 50 states? Probably not, especially when I've seen plenty of evidence that U.S. readers don't know them either.

Of course, switching to spelling out the full name of states offers the challenge of spelling them correctly. We can at least feel pretty confident of M-i-s-s-i-s-s-i-p-p-i.

Frankly, I've been surprised by the to-do about this ruling. Anything that adds to the readers' understanding is definitely a good idea.

The Missourian editors have not yet met to decide if we'll accept the new AP rules, but we are planning to discuss them soon. We've been gathering information and suggestions for revisions to our stylebook, too. If you have a style revision that you would like us to consider, feel free to send it along by Friday.

There were seven participants and 10 error reports in the April contest of Show Me the Errors. Ann Edwards won the drawing to win the prizes of a Missourian T-shirt and a copy of  "Yes, I Could Care Less" by Bill Walsh. We hope you'll join in the contest, too. There's an entry form at the bottom of every article. We certainly appreciate that you are willing to help us keep as error-free as possible.

Ten copy editing interns from across the U.S. have been participating this week in the Missouri Editing Excellence Workshop sponsored by the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund. It's a fairly intense session with daily instructions in the how-tos and where-fors of editing. Under the leadership of Brian Brooks, the director of the workshop, they've moved through presentations about legal issues, economics, math, photography and online and social media, as well as the fundamentals of grammar and punctuation, headline writing and editing.

It's a lot to digest. And, underlying all is practice, practice, practice. The interns have been asking bright, succinct questions about the news business, challenging as much in return as they are being challenged. As they enter into the reality of their careers, I hope they remember to breathe — to make time for themselves, their families and friends. I would wish them luck, but they don't need it. They are ready to roll.

Maggie Walter is an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and an interactive news editor at She was recently named Journalism Alumna of 2014 by Ball State University's Department of Journalism. 

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