The AP is now recommending that journalists not abbreviate state names (California instead of the former Calif., for instance). It makes sense when we have unlimited space online and as some have already observed, the intent of the switch is probably to emphasize SEO (no one’s typing in “Calif.” when they Google California), but I don’t really see a reason news orgs should tie themselves to AP style anymore anyway.
The intent of the AP has been, for a long time, to establish some measure of consistency across news publications with regard to spellings, capitalizations and other small references. Consistency in little details like that has been devalued to a great degree, though, as news has moved online and everyone has gained the ability to publish. I’m not saying journalists should just shrug and lower their standards (god forbid), but chill out a bit—in the grand scheme of things, Osama bin Laden versus Usama bin Laden is not something we’re going to live or die by. (Note: It’s a type of confusion that could be easily addressed, too, if more news orgs would maintain wikis or topic pages. Or link to ones that already exist.)
In a lot of cases, journalists would be better served by ignoring AP style than by following it. Perhaps that ought to be the rule: Use AP style except when something else works better. For instance:
- Feel free to use digits in headlines—sometimes people are more likely to click on them.
- Write in first person if you feel like it.
- Start sentences with lowercase letters (iPad, etc.) and digits (Two-thousand ten or Twenty ten is just weird when 2010 is available) if you have to.
- Refer to people by their first name if a surname seems awkwardly formal.
Remember: You’re not writing for the AP, you’re writing for your readers—use whatever rules work best for them.
- Student journalists need to learn SEO more than they need AP style
- “students…should write for their audience and the medium, not for AP or other journos” (@greglinch)