Election brings new AP style rules
Posted by Noel Sanchez on November 18, 2008
I promised more election-related style rules, and this next one really threw me for a loop.
The big news last week was that the Associated Press changed things up and decided to start using first names for all heads of state. President Bush will now be President George W. Bush on first reference.
I really like the change, but it kind of sucks that I just learned the old rule earlier this month when I was looking up how to deal with “president-elect.” The rule changed as quickly as I learned it. Regardless, I welcome the change because I love consistency and using first names on first reference is just one of those rules that should apply to everyone.
The AP said that they changed the rule so that American stories would be consistent with international ones. As Ken McIntyre wrote on the Heritage Foundation blog (not exactly the first place I go to for my editing needs), the change represents the media’s move toward international standards.
Sure, it took less space to print “President Roosevelt” than to print “President Franklin Delano Roosevelt” back in the day — when every inch of spare newsprint meant more room for news. More importantly, though, the quaint old style assumed Americans’ familiarity – by natural and national kinship, if you will — with their president. “In most cases, the first name of a current or former U.S. president is not necessary on first reference,” the AP Stylebook entry for “president” instructed.
Now, though, AP stories will introduce the American president — a citizen of the world, after all – with the same formality with which the wire service treats other leaders of nations: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev — even North Korean dictator Kim Jung II. No preconditions.
It’s an interesting point, but to me, the change is more about increased globalization and the accessibility of stories on the Web. Stories increasingly must stand on their own as readers from all over the world access them.