AP continues focus on topic guidance in news stylebook updates

March 25, 2023 By By Gerri Berendzen ACES News

An expanded entry on climate change and a new philanthropy terms entry are among the AP Stylebook updates and additions announced Thursday at the ACES: The Society for Editing annual conference. 

AP Stylebook editor Paula Froke and stylebook product manager Colleen Newvine went over the 2023 changes at the “What’s New in AP Style” session.

Other updates include a new entry on the term “woke” and a change to using LGBTQ+.

Many of the updates announced focused on topic guidance over single-entry usage or punctuation issues.

“The Stylebook leadership team has made a conscious choice to provide more substantive guidance on complex topics where we see reporters and editors looking for support,” Froke said in an interview before the ACES session. “Not so long ago, the Stylebook’s scope was more limited to grammar, spelling and punctuation, but we believe there’s a need to help tell accurate, complete stories on these nuanced issues.”

Froke said the AP Stylebook has evolved to provide more guidance on key topics, such as recent expansion of entries on race-related coverage and inclusive storytelling.

That doesn’t mean the editors are ignoring pure style issues.

“Some of this expanded guidance (on climate change) involves simple style points such as capitalization and punctuation,” Froke said. “Other parts highlight various points for reporters, writers and editors to consider as they choose language and frame approaches.”

Included in the expanded climate change entry is a list of key terms. For instance, the entry says “use the term climate change when generally referring to long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns” and “use the term global warming in referring to the increase of average temperature around the world.”

The new guidance also cautions not to use terms like climate change deniers or climate change doubters and instead to be specific about an individual or group of people’s beliefs.

Froke said the entry on philanthropy came about because the AP appointed an editor for philanthropy coverage a few years ago.

“Expanded Stylebook coverage grew naturally from the work that philanthropy editor Glenn Gamboa has been doing in his news coverage,” she said. 

One new entry is “nonprofit vs. not-for-profit.” The entry explains that “in the U.S., a nonprofit organization is one that has tax-exempt status from the IRS and has a stated mission to provide a public benefit … . A not-for-profit organization is not required to operate for the public good and donations to the organization are not tax-deductible.”

The AP Stylebook now says that LGBTQ+ is acceptable in all references for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer and/or questioning, plus other sexual and gender minorities.

“The Stylebook’s new default to LGBTQ+ is in line with NLGJA: The Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists, which recently changed its name to include the plus symbol as a sign of further inclusivity,” Froke said. “The AP Stylebook made its change in the same spirit.”

She said the AP also consults with groups such as the Trans Journalists Association and GLAAD, along with academics and individual journalists inside and outside the AP.

“There was wide agreement that LGBTQ+ includes other groups without defaulting to potentially unfamiliar and inconsistent constructions,” Froke said.

An expanded entry in the gender, sex and sexual orientation section notes that deadnaming a transgender person, even posthumously in obituaries, is often considered disrespectful to the deceased, their survivors and any transgender people.

Froke said the stylebook can’t foresee every scenario that might come up in a news story, but that “the addition of specific guidance on obituaries seeks to flag that a person’s death does not automatically provide carte blanche to use their previous name.”

Other non-topic entries announced during Thursday’s ACES session include:

Meanwhile, Froke said not to expect a new entry on numerals soon.

“The 90-minute session we held at ACES a few years ago, asking for advice on if and how to tweak our numbers guidance, resulted in a pretty even split. About half the group thought we should keep the guidance pretty much as-is … . About half thought we should go mainly to numerals in most uses, including under 10,” Froke said.

“The more we examine this, the more complicated it gets. Every effort to write ‘simple’ guidance has fallen short. We’ve set it aside for now while focusing on other concerns.”

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