So What Is AP Style?

Cover of

Cover via Amazon

During my internship today, I was monitoring my Twitter when I noticed that @APStylebook tweeted without replying to a follower’s question about a specific rule (something that doesn’t usually happen). The tweet outlined three style changes:

Three style changes: smartphone, cellphone and Kolkata. They are live on Stylebook Online and will be in the 2011 book in May.

In journalism class tonight, my professor mentioned these changes after he noted we might be discussing AP style later in class. One student wanted the professor to clarify why Associated Press style is so important: Basically, my fellow student was wondering why people have decided to follow AP style. The professor explained that AP style isn’t law but rather guidelines that some journalists choose to follow. The student continued, wondering if we had to follow AP style and was answered with a resounding “yes.”

Not much a fan of guidelines that I have to follow (at least in Journalistic Inquiry class) myself, I wondered why NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute chose to teach its students a particular style when one of the world’s most renowned publications (The New York Times, duh) has its own way of doing things. I guess it has something to do with continuity: NYU assumes that many of its journalism students will work on a publication that follows AP style because so many of them do. But why? As a wire service, AP forwards many of its stories to other publications around the world, from the Times to the Evanston RoundTable where I interned last summer back home. Throwing together a front page last-minute for a publication like Washington Post, editors will print AP stories verbatim and it helps when cellphone is written the same for both the paper’s original content and the AP wire service material.

However, my professor went on to explain that never in a journalist’s career will they have to know if cell phone or cellphone is correct: they can consult a style book. He compared it to knowing the definition of all words when, in reality, you can look up any word in Webster’s.

This all makes perfectly good sense to me, but I wonder then why I’m (presumably) going to be tested on AP style basics on my second midterm later this month. Also: why the hell did we have spelling tests in first grade when spellcheck existed then?

Note: looking at WordPress’ suggested related articles, I suppose I missed another of @APStylebook’s tweets. They announced email doesn’t need a hyphen anymore. Interesting…email has become its own word instead of an abbreviation for “electronic mail.” I think this means I can use “LOL” “BTdubs” and other abbreviations as words too, now. After all, “good-bye” was once “God be with you.”

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