Dear AP: some suggestions for your stylebook

AP stylebook.

 Dear Associated Press,

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I received the 2013 edition of your stylebook a week ago. It is largely up to my expectations.

I thought it would just include guidelines about which word to use in which context, but it also contains a punctuation guide, a code of ethics, about 40 pages on media law, a guide to new technologies, suggestions on how to write papers, and much more. It even explains how to write kitchen receipes.

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Your book is really great. It’s a journalism course on its own!

By the way, it’s really big (483 pages). I haven’t read it all yet, so please forgive my mistakes. Moreover, I’m just a little Frenchie, and it is a well-known fact that the French do not speak any foreign language, not even English.

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However, I have a few suggestions for the next edition of your stylebook.

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I was reading with amazement the kitchen part when I saw, with horror…

AP stylebook calories

Oh dear, my dear AP, how it is possible that an organisation as professional as you could make such a dreadful mistake! It’s 651 kilocalories (or kcal) per serving, not 651 calories (or cal)! A kilocalory is worth 1,000 calories. An adult’s mean energy requirements roughly amount to 2,000 kilocalories (or 2,000 kcal). 651 calories are what’s in a few bread crumbs. By the way, you should add a “calory” entry so no journalist ever gets wrong on that issue again.

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Then, I flipped through the pages and saw the entry dedicated to my favourite news channel. I read it and realised I forgot to introduce it to you!

AP stylebook Jazeera

Three things:

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1 – You write « Al-Jazeera » with a hyphen. Although it’s logical from a linguistic point of view, you say throughout the Stylebook that we should always use the company’s preferred spelling. By visiting the Al Jazeera English website, you can quickly see that their preferred spelling is with a space, not a hyphen.

Don’t worry, it’s not that important to put a hyphen instead of a space, or the other way round. What’s really important is that you do not write it “el-Djazira” as one of your competitor does (I won’t say which), nor “Al-Jezira” as my favourite newspaper does, nor – even worse “Al-Dschasira” as Germans do

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2 – Usually, when talking about a company in your stylebook, you write the full company name somewhere. Here, you could also write “Al Jazeera Media Network” somewhere.

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3 – The Al Jazeera Media Network is composed of the following main channels (list not exhaustive):

  • The Arabic language channel, which is pan-Arab as you describe in the entry. It was launched in 1996, reached a peak of influence during the 2011 Arab Spring and is now in decline.

  • The English language channel, launched in 2006. It says it is focused on the global South, although I feel it to be pretty balanced between the West and the rest of the world. It is more watched than its Arabic counterpart and is also more influential, thanks to its investigations. It is the reference news channel in Southeast Asia and East Africa.

  • The Balkans channel, launched in 2011. As far as I know, it is the reference news channel for this part of world.

  • The American channel, launched in 2013. Its viewership is still meager.

  • A handful of sport channels named BeIN SPORTS, in Arabic and French.

Putting that into consideration, I think that calling Al Jazeera a pan-Arab network is inaccurate. It would be better to describe it as “international”, rather than merely pan-regional.

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I turned the page, and then I saw…

AP stylebook Qaeda

One can spend hours debating about romanisation, especially of Arab words, but here is my advice if you don’t mind.

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This spelling makes sense when compared to transliteration: “al-qā’ida” القاعِدة

However, it does not represent the real prononciation. Usually, in a word form such as فاعل fā’il or فاعلة fā’ila, the unstressed “i” tends to become an “e” or a schwa. It is even more true when it is placed after the pharyngal ع ‘ayn, a consonant that tends to modify the vowel quality; and still more true when the consonant before the ‘ayn is a ق qāf, which also modifies the vowel quality. The actual prononciation of the word is thus quite similar to “al-Qaeda”. Moreover, most non-Arabs tend to stress the “i” instead of the « a » in « al-Qaida ». This is a mistake as wrong stress changes the meaning of the word. If the “i” is replaced by an “e”, readers will be slightly more likely to stress the “a” instead. But that’s really a debatable topic.

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Oh, while we’re at it, you may want to clarify the meaning of the adjective “veiled”. For instance, is a “veiled woman” a woman with a headscarf, face uncovered, or a woman with a veil on her face?

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Dear AP, those were all my suggestions. I hope the next edition of the Stylebook will be even more brilliant than the current one.

But please, correct the calory/kilocalory part. I can’t stand any more sleepless nights wondering how could the world’s most reknowned news agency have done something so awful.

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Best regards,

Victoria Castro, trainee journalist with bunny ears

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For any complaint, please contact my smartphone-bunny on Twitter: @EVictoriaCastro

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