A couple weeks ago, I closed the book on five years at the helm of Guardian US’s production department. It’s not a terribly long time, and only a fraction of the time spent at the Guardian by David Marsh, who in August signed off after two decades as the style guide master, but it is nearly the entire lifespan of Guardian US, and in that time I saw a lot of action: Occupy Wall Street, the NSA series on Edward Snowden, The Counted, and two presidential elections.
I was among the first Americans to join, as a copy editor, in 2011, and I was initially uneasy about how naked Guardian articles seemed, having been brought up on Associated Press style. The Guardian only uses periods (or “full stops”, as I soon learned to call them) at the end of sentences, and it seems as though everything is lower case. But I quickly came to adore this minimalist, progressive approach. (The Guardian was one of the first news organizations, in 1999, to lowercase “internet”. The AP and the New York Times finally adopted the rule in 2016.)
I loved how clean everything looked, and soon I was bristling at other publications’ overuse of capitalization. NASA or UNICEF looked like shouting to me (the Guardian writes Nasa and Unicef, and not a week goes by without it receiving a complaint that it has “spelled” Nasa wrong). “Washington, D.C.” looks like it’s in desperate need of tidying up. Washington DC – that’s better.
I loved the way it insisted on not using “woman” as an adjective because “man” is never used that way, as in man president, and how it shunned words like actress and postmistress. I wish more American news outlets, and writers in general, would do the same.
But as more Americans joined the Guardian, particularly reporters, some resistance against the style guide began to creep up. I remember one particularly heated argument with the sports desk about “St Louis”. A US sports writer was in disbelief that we would format the Missouri city without the full stop after St. “Americans will think we don’t know what we’re talking about!” he claimed. How could we possibly be serious about America, they said, if we didn’t write St. Louis? I don’t know if Cardinals fans ended up concluding we were clueless, but it went in period-less.
Beyond punctuation and formatting, it became clear that we had to confront a central quandary: what do we do with American reporters’ copy? Should we convert it to the Queen’s English? We might be born of a British news organisation but we were here to report on the US and to carve out our own space as a fully American news outlet. But then were we going to change the English of veteran British journalists, who were reporting over here, into American English? That didn’t feel right.
One of the overarching purposes of a style guide is consistency. We make rules so that there aren’t navy seals and Navy Seals and navy SEALs all over the place. So this problem of wrestling with American and British English seemed significant, and also seemed to fly in the face of all that.
What we decided to do, as I did my best to explain to the Atlantic, was to honor the individual reporter’s voice. British English would of course be maintained throughout the Guardian newspaper, but online we would follow the reporter’s lead. This isn’t a perfect system, and we still run into obstacles. What do we do when a British and American reporter collaborate on a story? We speak to the news editor and get a sense of which reporter was the lead, and go with that. It’s not a perfect system, but it’s one I’m happy to have played a part in developing.
There are a couple style rulings in particular that I’m proud of. Helping to change our style on named storms so that the word “hurricane” is capitalized, eg Hurricane Sandy, not hurricane Sandy. Or banning the police-jargon phrase “active shooter” when it’s not in quoted speech.
One of my last office-wide style missives was against the word “pantsuit”, which unfortunately is now somewhat irrelevant. But think about it: what do you call an outfit consisting of a jacket, trousers and a dress shirt? Whether one calls it a suit or a pantsuit depends on whether it’s worn by a woman, and that didn’t seem right. Further I don’t think any of our readers would be confused if we wrote, for example, that Hillary Clinton wore a green suit.
My next move may be to an American news organization that writes U.S. and Web site and capitalizes President when it’s in the middle of a sentence, and that’s fine. Although maybe I can squeeze through a more few changes.
This article was sourced from http://intrnews.com