AP Style out of Style?

Since 1953, the Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law has been telling American journalists whether they should put a comma before a conjunction (AP says no) or whether it is “Web site” or “website” (it’s website). It has generally been regarded as the answer to all things punctuation, capitalization, grammar, and format for newspapers and their journalists. Until, perhaps, now.

Robert Niles, of the Online Journalism Review, says “The newspaper industry developed a common style, maintained by the Associated Press, to meet the communication needs of a print-based industry trying to most effective communicate with a broad audience.” Today that broad audience has moved online; is AP style out of date? Niles seems to think so, arguing that today’s journalism students should be focusing more on SEO than AP style. Online publishers and editors also want to communicate most effectively with their audience, and they need a style that helps them do that. “Unfortunately for them, the print-inspired AP style is not that. Today’s (and tomorrow’s) journalists need to learn search engine optimization techniques as much as, if not more than, their predecessors who worked in the print industry needed to learn AP.” SEO can help publishers and journalists reach out to the audience that has moved past print, but it also helps reach people who wouldn’t necessarily seek out an online newspaper or news magazine but would be interested in the content. They can also reach potential readers through Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites where the AP style is obsolete. Niles writes, “Unfortunately, in print journalism, with readers too long delivered through local monopoly, too many reporters and headline writers became more focused on being clever than clear.” SEO tends to pare material down to its most essential ingredients. In the digital news world, if you are not clear, concise, up-to-the-minute, and relevant, you’re not going to attract readers.

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