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Issue for April 2016

Where Do You Stand on Lowercasing "Internet"?

Posted on Friday, April 29, 2016 at 10:05 PM

Editors weigh in on the upcoming AP Stylebook rule change.

By William Dunkerley

Starting June 1 the AP Stylebook will lowercase the word "Internet." We asked editors whether that is a good or bad idea. Here's what they said:

--"Bad. Call me old school, but Internet is still a proper noun." --Victoria Benning, Washington Post

--"I can't say whether it's good or bad, but I'm not changing my magazine's style just solely because the AP is updating theirs. We will continue to uppercase Internet." --Bradley Worrell, Editor, RV PRO magazine

--"We've been lowercasing it for years." --David Gadd, Executive Editor, The Tasting Panel Magazine

--"I think that's fine. If it's uppercase, that implies that it's a company or some official entity. If it's lowercase, it's more generic as in 'I went to the clinic.' Different from 'I went to the Brown Dental Clinic.'" --Carolyn Ulrich, Editor, Chicagoland Gardening magazine

--"I disagree that it should be lowercase; how is the Internet not a proper noun?" --Dan Cohen, Managing Editor, Defense Communities 360

--"I think lowercasing the I in Internet is a moderately poor idea. It's the name of a fairly important thing -- generally more important than, say, Greenland or Monsanto. You wouldn't lowercase them!" --C.G. Masi

--"I write tech. Everyone UCs Internet right now -- treating it like a specific place. However, it now is ubiquitous (like those 'here's-how-to-fasten-your-seatbelt' lectures on planes -- who doesn't know?!). There is no trademark or brand name involved. I think it's about time we LC'd it. So I agree with AP." --Curt Harler

--"I never understood why it was capitalized in the first place. Having to uppercase it was one of the more common corrections I've had to make to copy over the years." --Cheryl Tucker, Editorial Writer, The News Tribune

--"I liken it to the word 'highway,' a system of online travel that takes you to Google, YouTube, and all else that is a proper noun. So for me it would make sense to lowercase it." --Christina Christensen, Senior Editor, Orange Coast Magazine

--"Good idea. I've never understood the reasoning behind the capitalization. I always considered internet a generic thing." --Dave Fusaro, Editor-in-Chief, Food Processing and Wellness Foods

--"I think it's a good idea. It's a noun, but not a proper noun. As other tech terms (email, website) have switched to more organic capitalization and spelling, I think it makes sense for internet to follow suit." --Nichole Morford, Editorial Lead and Manager, Digital CoE

--"Good idea. The word has become very generic, not a proper name. I'm for the change." --Dave Foe, Director of Print and e-Publications, Michigan Dental Association

--"Internet should remain uppercase. It is a unique title for a unique network, of which, therefore, there is only one. It is not a generic reference, and it was arrived at through a consensus of computer scientists. To my knowledge, Chicago Manual of Style still specifies Internet and the Web. That is an appropriate usage." --David

--"Isn't it funny that the spelling of web addresses has made the phrase 'all one word' into alloneword -- as in 'My email address is chipps at singletrackworld (alloneword) dot com'? I don't see why it should be capitalised any more than 'switchboard' or 'marketplace. P.S. I like that lowercase is now a verb." --Chipps Chippendale, Editor, Singletrack magazine

--"We still uppercase. I've always considered one reason (of many possible) for uppercasing was the uniqueness, or at least rarity, the importance, the predominance of a thing. And there is still only one Internet. I'd have to hear the rationale for the change." --Chris Glenn, Editor-in-Chief, Review of Ophthalmology

--"I'm in favor of lowercasing the 'I' in internet. The word has moved far beyond a proper noun, and it's so ubiquitous and used in so many contexts now that treating it as a proper noun has become pointless and seems rather stuffy." --Carol Mangis

--"Good idea. The word is no longer used as a proper noun." --Angela Hartley, Managing Editor, JOGNN

--"I rather prefer Internet to be capitalized. I've long grown accustomed to thinking of it as a specific galaxy unto itself worthy of proper-name status. To lowercase Internet is to relegate it to a lowly generic realm, like the hinterlands or the shallows. Alas." --Allen J. Sheinman, Managing Editor, Meetings & Conventions magazine

--"Good idea. The fewer capitals in language and in life, the better. Seriously, though, to me capitalization suggests a brand; whereas the internet is a utility like electric, gas, etc. Also it will be consistent with lowercased web." --Andrew Simpson, Chief Content Officer, Wells Media Group

--"I was just pondering that in a sentence yesterday. For some reason lowercasing it just doesn't feel right to me, probably due to just habit. But honestly, this is one of those where I can go either way." --Andrew Kaplan, Beverage World

--"To be honest, I pay less and less attention to the stylebook these days. I have little time or patience for acknowledging AP's falling standards. It was once the gold standard. Not anymore." --Anonymity requested

So editors are fairly evenly divided on the issue.

That means AP is not entirely following current editorial practice, but is in fact leading. This is a change in strategy from the past. It was actually pretty late in switching from the archaic "Web site" to website.

In May 2003 Norman Goldstein, AP StyleBook editor, told us: "Style, in the sense we're talking about, really means a preference (in spelling or punctuation or capitalization or usage) when there is a choice to be made. AP made the choice of 'Web site' for what we thought were very good, language-based, reasons. Others are free to use their preference -- as long as it is clear to a reader and consistent. More creative writers than I have said that 'usage will push new meanings into currency no matter how many authorities hurl themselves into the path of change.'"

In the meantime, Editors Only will stick with "Internet" until we see that the lowercased practice in the field is more widespread. But I believe that each publication editor is in the best position to judge what's right for his or her own audience. Speaking in a style that best connects with your readers is perhaps the best criterion for deciding whether to change or not.

William Dunkerley is principal of William Dunkerley Publishing Consultants, www.publishinghelp.com.

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The Power of Observation

Posted on Friday, April 29, 2016 at 10:03 PM

Strive for an on-the-scene presence to greatly enrich your story.

By Peter Jacobi

Having decided to finally stop teaching at Indiana University 16 years after official retirement, I recently needed to follow that decision with an action, to vacate my on-campus office. In the process, I came upon copies of two favorite books that I took home:

--A Treasury of Great Reporting: "Literature under Pressure" from the Sixteenth Century to Our Own Time, edited by two history professors, Louis L. Snyder from the College of the City of New York and Richard B. Morris from Columbia University, and published by Simon and Schuster in 1949.

--Eyewitness to History, edited by John Carey, an English professor from Oxford, and published by Harvard University Press in 1987.

As I had done countless times previously, I started to skip through the pages, looking at whatever I chanced upon. And in so doing, I recalled a lesson emphasized throughout, that during the reporting phase of information gathering, we should not forget the power of observation, that being there allows you (the writer) to take me (the reader) there. Virtually every item in the two books benefits from the use of being there, of observation. Consistently, I'm taken to the where of an event and, just as consistently, I gain a sense of presence, of eyewitnessing. I swiftly find myself close to the action and, thereby, gaining a feel for the story, a care, an enthusiasm or need for reading more.

Comprehending the Author's Experience

Amerigo Vespucci, on his second voyage to the New World in 1502, takes us down the coast of Brazil to a fantasy of vegetation, of wild animals ("We saw so many other animals that I believe so many could not have entered Noah's ark."), and of "natural animals." "We found the whole land," writes the explorer, "inhabited by people entirely naked, the men like the women without any covering of their shame. Their bodies are well proportioned, of light color, with long hair, and little or no beard.

"For people who have no iron or indeed any metal," he continues, "one can call their cabins truly miraculous houses. For I have seen habitations which are 220 paces long and 30 wide, ingeniously fabricated, and in one of those houses dwelt five or six hundred persons. They sleep in nets woven out of cotton, going to bed in mid-air with no other coverture. They eat squatting on the ground."

Vespucci's seeing and experiencing that destination of discovery offers us, as readers, an opportunity to comprehend his excitement.

Observed Details

In another used story, a British writer, Robert Wynkfielde, shares an eyewitness account of the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1586. He reported: "Then lying upon the block most quietly, and stretching out her arms, cried In manus tuas, Domine, etc. three or four times. Then she, lying very still upon the block, one of the executioners holding her slightly with one of his hands, she endured two strokes of the other executioner with an axe, she making very small noise or none at all.... and so the executioner cut off her head, saving one little gristle, which being cut asunder, he lift up her head to the view of all the assembly and bade God save the Queen.

"Then one of the executioners, pulling off her garters," the report continues, "espied her little dog which was crept under her clothes, which could not be gotten forth but by force, yet afterward would not depart from the dead corpse, but came and lay between her head and her shoulders." Such detail can come only from a reporter/writer being there.

On-the-Scene Words

Jack London, in April of 1906, sees a city die; therefore, we do. "San Francisco is gone," London writes. "Nothing remains of it but memories and a fringe of dwelling houses on its outskirts. Its industrial section is wiped out. Its social and residential section is wiped out. The factories and warehouses, the great stores and newspaper buildings, the hotels and the palaces of the nabobs are all gone. Remains only the fringe of dwelling houses on the outskirts of what was once San Francisco."

Granted that photos can capture the San Francisco scene, and by 1906, of course, we had the art of photography in full development to assist in the coverage of such stories as the San Francisco earthquake. But the on-the-scene words from Jack London surely help us travel there.

Thoughts Combined with Sights

Magner White of the San Diego Sun earned a Pulitzer for his coverage of an eclipse of the sun in September 1923. He verbalized his observations: "And now still darker. The Mistress Moon moves on in her eternal path, prompt in her appointment. Tiny humans on the globe below, the Earth -- how inconsequential before this relentless, dogged power of the solar bodies moving in their orbits. Darker! The real shadow is coming! Incredible speed. It bursts in from the sea, going 25 miles a minute. Night is upon us. What is this fear we can't keep down? The hint of the infinite night -- a world with no sun!

"Our friends give us ghastly smiles, pale lilies they are. Shadow bands stripe the earth; quivering crescents of light flit on the sides of buildings. The city glows in puny artificial light. The blot in the sky is now complete. The sun is gone!" We have a writer's thoughts interspersed with sights seen. That's a winning combination.

Yes, library and records research is important. Yes, finding sources to question is important. But strive for an on-the-scene presence to greatly enrich the body of information from and with which you write.

And try to find copies of the two books. They are great reads as well as tools for learning.

Peter P. Jacobi is a Professor Emeritus at Indiana University. He is a writing and editing consultant for numerous associations and magazines, speech coach, and workshop leader for various institutions and corporations. He can be reached at 812-334-0063.

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The Fog Index

Posted on Friday, April 29, 2016 at 10:02 PM

Assessing the readability of a WashingtonPost.com excerpt.

This month's Fog Index excerpt comes from an April 28 WashingtonPost.com piece ("Amazon's Revenue and Profit Soar" by Sarah Halzack). Here's the text:

"Amazon continued efforts this quarter to strengthen its position across several retailing categories. With the launch in March of a nightly, QVC-like streaming show called 'Style Code Live,' it continued to try to make itself into more of a destination for fashionistas. And it expanded the products available for order with Dash buttons, which are small, Internet-enabled devices that can be placed in a pantry or laundry room so shoppers can stock up on items like granola bars, coffee or detergent with the touch of the button. In the so-called 'Internet of things' category, it joined forces with Brita to debut a WiFi-connected water pitcher that orders new filters automatically when needed."

--Word count: 112 words
--Average sentence length: 28 words (13, 29, 45, 25)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 11 percent (12/112 words)
--Fog Index: (28+11)*.4 = 15 (15.6, no rounding)

The clear culprit here is sentence length. The piece starts off on a clear note with a 13-word sentence. But the sentences that follow all equal or exceed 25 words, with the third sentence weighing in at a hefty 45 words. Let's try to cut a few points of Fog:

"Amazon continued to strengthen its position across several retailing categories this quarter. In March it launched a nightly QVC-like streaming show called 'Style Code Live" in hopes of attracting more fashionistas. It also offered more products for order with Dash buttons, which are small, Internet-enabled devices that can be placed in a pantry or laundry room. Shoppers can stock up on items like granola bars, coffee, or detergent with the touch of the button. In the so-called 'Internet of things' category, Amazon joined forces with Brita to debut a WiFi-connected water pitcher that orders new filters automatically when needed."

--Word count: 99 words
--Average sentence length: 20 words (12, 19, 25, 18, 25)
--Words with 3+ syllables: 9 percent (9/99 words)
--Fog Index: (20+9)*.4 = 11 (11.6, no rounding)

We were able to trim the total word count from 112 to 99. This reduced the number of longer words by 2 percent. Of greatest impact on our Fog score was average sentence length which we cut by 8 words, nearly one third. These modest changes yielded big results. The Fog Index of the excerpt fell from 15 to 11, by over 25 percent.

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Possible Gannett and Tribune Merger

Posted on Friday, April 29, 2016 at 10:01 PM

In the news: Gannett has offered to buy ailing media enterprise Tribune Publishing. What would this mean for the newspaper industry?

In what Poynter.org is calling a "hostile takeover bid," Gannett offered over $800 million to buy the troubled Tribune Publishing. The offer comes after a bleak 2015 showing from Tribune, whose newspapers saw a sharp decline in ad revenue.

The offer comes just two months after Michael Ferro took over as nonexecutive chairman of Tribune Publishing. Already talks seem to be turning contentious, with Gannett anxious to move forward with a deal and Tribune wanting more time to assess the terms.

Read more about the deal here and what it could mean for the newspaper industry here.

Also Notable

Scholastic: A Magazine Success Story

Modern-day magazine success stories can pop up in the most unexpected of places. Scholastic, whose titles are intended for children and teens, is experiencing significant growth. According to Fortune.com, print circulation in classrooms is up 15 percent over the past three years. The publisher is launching a new third-grade magazine, Storyworks Jr., this year. School districts typically foot the bill for group/classroom subscriptions, a business model that continues to pay off for Scholastic. According to Fortune.com, "Scholastic's education business grew 8.2% in fiscal 2015 and 4.3% the year earlier. Education revenue for the first nine months of the current fiscal year totaled $185.6 million, up 9% from a year ago." Read more here.

Reconstructing Print

Last week, Mike Drexler of MediaVillage.com wrote up his assessment of the print magazine business. About the future of print, he writes: "All magazines in print form will not perish. But most of them will shrink substantially in circulation and audience in their current form -- and believing that the digital tablet will save the industry is folly." Read his complete commentary here.

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