Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Online Style Guide Needed

"Newspapers ought to be one of the bastions of literacy, and reporters and editors ought to be at pains to shun corruptions and commonplace errors that may be excusable from others."

— The London Free Press Style Guide

Newspapers are in trouble. At least, when it comes to quality. I have an idea on how to improve the product, sponsor an online style guide.

At one time The London Free Press, like many publications, published it own in-house style guide. It came in a little binder filled with hole-punched, printed pages. This book form made updating quick and easy.

When the old style guide was used in conjunction with The Canadian Oxford Dictionary, a reporter or photographer or editor had a two great resources immediately at hand. The paper has stopped producing the style guide and Oxford has shut down their unique, Canadian operation.

Maybe it is time for The London Free Press to approach Sun Media and Quebecor Media and encourage the production of a company-wide, online, style guide. The guide could offer read only access to everyone, including readers, but changes to the guide would be carefully controlled. An online suggestion box would be nice. Let users of the guide suggest changes and additions just as editorial staff were once encouraged to submit new entries, corrections or changes to the members of the Style Guide committee.

Newspapers realized that "consistency must go hand in hand with accuracy" in order to maintain the complete confidence of readers. The Free Press guide points out that "dictionaries are diagnostic; the Style Guide is prescriptive. Dictionaries report how words are used by the majority, no matter whether well or ill; the Style Guide specifies how they are to be used in The Free Press, and insists on correctness."

Let me share with you a few of the entries from my copy of The London Free Press Style Guide:

accepted a position is a trite expression frequently found in business announcements. More often, a person applies for a position and the company does the accepting.

a.m., p.m. (lower case): 2 p.m. EDT; 2:30 a.m. EST. The terms a.m. and p.m. are redundant in connection with noon or midnight. They mean ante meridiem and post meridiem, whereas the sun is exactly opposite the meridiem at midnight and over it at noon.

billion (1,000,000,000), million (1,000,000). It is $4.3 billion; four billion people. A billion in Canadian usage means a thousand million. In Europe, a billion is a million million, but don't worry about the conversion; it's done by the wire services.

cement. Don't use cement when you mean concrete. Cement is the powdery substance used in making concrete. It's a concrete block, concrete abutment, concrete sidewalk. Workmen pour concrete, not cement, when they're building foundations. Concrete is a mixture of cement, sand, gravel and water. But cement mixer.

It is important to get Sun Media and Quebecor on-board when it comes to this project. It might prevent the following which appeared in The Free Press after being moved to the paper by the QMI Agency: "The Jeep . . . slammed through the cement foundation of the bungalow."

doctors fought to save. Avoid.

doughnut (never donut except when required in company names)

e.g. (means exempli gratia). Avoid, use "for example."

Today the paper not only uses e.g., but uses it incorrectly. The following is from the paper's online Email Alerts page: "Eg. Breaking news, News, Sports, Entertainment." Eg.?

Note e-mail is spelled one way at the top of the page and another way in the body of the text. Talk about the need for a style guide. Also note how the writer has failed to capitalize all the words in the name of the paper. The London Free Press name is capitalized incorrectly online. Ouch! (See below.)

the. It's capitalized in all nominative references to our own newspaper . . . The London Free Press.

till, until. The two are equally correct. The original form, till, is more common, but its expanded variation, until, is often preferred in phrases or clauses preceding the main clause. (We're not going home till the press club closes, but Until it closes, we're not budging.). 'Til, which would be a contraction of an expansion, is nonsense. Up to is acceptable, but not up until.

zero, zeros (not zeroes).

When I saw the above, I groaned. I've made that mistake all too often and I'm sure I've seen it in print. A quick check turned up lots of examples of the word zeroes in print. It turns out that "his paycheque has a few more zeroes than mine" is incorrect. The Style Guide is correct; The plural of the noun is zeros.

But there is also a verb "to zero." "The NDP zeroes in on a vulnerable Liberal seat" is correct. This time zero is a verb.


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