October 2023 Are you writing a news release? Do you know about AP Style?
In earlier weeks, we’ve talked about how to write news releases, those written pieces you send the news media when you are trying to get them to cover your upcoming conference, announce the release of your new book, or interview your CEO about your company’s discovery of a new use for baby wipes.
Earlier missives focused on how to organize the material, emphasizing the importance of the 5Ws and an H (who, what, when, where, why and how). If you missed that explanation, here’s one blog post that provides some info.
I believe we would have also spoken about news writing being straightforward sentences of facts, not the persuasive tone and opinions of advertising copy.
And we may also have referred to something called AP Style.
Have you heard of it?
Today we are going to do a quick introduction to what is called AP Style, some guidelines found in something called The Associated Press Stylebook.
The AP Stylebook is largely accepted as the gold standard for journalists of guidelines and rules — style — about practical but sometimes surprisingly complicated stuff like grammar, what gets capitalized, what gets abbreviated, how to write dates, and where commas go – or don’t.
In shorthand, it’s referred to as “AP style” and if you ever took a journalism course, I hope you learned about it and suffered through memorizing some basics.
In college when you had to write papers, you may have learned about other styles such as the University of Chicago style or the English department’s favorite, MLA. Academic Biblical folks have one too, and I’m sure in medicine and the sciences there are other style books.
AP, however, is what journalists use. If you’ve ever done any book editing you may turn up your nose at AP style compared to the more formal Chicago style. But journalists are in a hurry, tend to cut corners and write less formally, using as few words as possible, and leave out some commas.
But the real reason you need to pay attention to AP style is to help your own news releases get taken seriously. It’s a mark of professionalism, plus less annoying to busy editors of news outlets who don’t have time to edit your unnecessary style mistakes.
One example. Let’s say you are hosting a book signing event at Miss Annabelle’s Tea Room in Loveland, Ohio, on the first Saturday in November. Do you write the date as November 4th?
Well, you could, but not in AP Style. In AP style you write Saturday, Nov. 4. Because not only do you not use “th” and “st” with dates, you include the day of the week, abbreviate longer months, and don’t expect someone else to go find it to comply with the news outlet’s style.
And if you are writing about something in the past, say, last Saturday, would you then write it occurred Saturday, Oct.7? No. Because once an event is over, generally speaking, journalists reckon they’ll save a word by leaving out the day of the week of a past event.
Getting date style correct is one tiny example but an annoying one for those on the receiving end.
You can find AP style info online, or subscribe or buy the annual book, which stays amazingly up to date and puzzles over how to handle spelling and word choices in appropriate ways in a fast-changing world. Associated Press Stylebook (apstylebook.com)
But for most of us, just a few items are important to get right, like those pesky dates. If you would like a quick cheat sheet of AP style usage for your own news releases, write me and ask for one.
But before I close, let me also back up a bit further to talk about the AP in AP Style.
If, like most people, you are reading updates on world news and major national events, you will have no doubt seen an article that opens with a dateline, that is, the city where the story originates, followed by the letters (AP). That’s the same AP and it stands for Associated Press. Those little letters mean that the story came to the news outlet from AP, or Associated Press, a long-standing and well-respected professional news gathering organization that has journalists working all over the world gathering news stories. AP provides news to other news organizations, but you can also find current news at their website, APNews.com. Here’s the lead paragraph of their Middle East coverage on a recent Friday afternoon:
CAIRO (AP) — Israel’s call Friday for half of the Gaza Strip’s population to evacuate south is hiking Egypt’s fears of a massive influx of refugees across the heavily fortified border into its territory.
You might have missed that (AP) before but now you know.
And here’s another new something about AP I learned while researching for this article.
While I was on their website, I discovered a tab called “Fact Check.” With all the various ways that people get news today, some more reliable than others, this is a great service provided free of charge by AP to help us know what to believe. Under that tab are many stories referenced and whether the claim is true or false.
We need news we can trust, and AP provides that.
I’ll close with their description of themselves, which I suspect has been recently updated to clarify their commitment to doing the best they can to be factual.
The Associated Press is an independent global news organization dedicated to factual reporting. Founded in 1846, AP today remains the most trusted source of fast, accurate, unbiased news in all formats and the essential provider of the technology and services vital to the news business.
So back to you and me – using their style guide demonstrates your professionalism and will help busy editors who might even be willing to use your story about the baby wipes.
Don’t forget to write me if you want that AP Style cheat sheet.