Tag Archives: Style guide

#cablegate: Is WikiLeaks a whistleblower?

“Whistleblower” – it’s a word that we have used ourselves here at Journalism.co.uk to define WikiLeaks, the site currently publishing batches of more than 250,000 confidential diplomatic cables and at the heart of debate over the rights and wrongs of doing so.

But when news organisations use this word to describe WikiLeaks, what, if anything, are they communicating about the body itself? This is a question raised in an interesting post on Yahoo’s The Cutline news blog, which reports that this issue has actually led to a series of news organisations asking their journalists not to use the word in their reports.

“We’ve had ‘whistleblower’ in some copy but have decided not to use it any longer,” AP spokesman Paul Colford told The Cutline. “Our description now reflects the site’s own name: a website that specializes in displaying leaked information.”

Colford didn’t say whether the AP considers “whistle-blower” to be inaccurate. He simply said that “we think we have a better, clearer description, and that’s what we’re using.”

NBC News spokeswoman Lauren Kapp also told The Cutline that the network was retiring “whistle-blower” in its WikiLeaks reports, even though it called WikiLeaks a “whistle-blower” on last Monday’s “Nightly News With Brian Williams.” Reuters, which has used “whistleblower” since the State Department leak, no longer uses it either. “Our style guidelines ask that reporters not describe WikiLeaks as a whistle-blower,” Reuters spokeswoman Erin Kurtz said.

So what’s the problem? The Cutline looks at the true definition of the term and the impact this could have on a reader/listener/viewer.

The term “whistle-blower” is usually used to describe someone within, say, a corporation or government agency who risks a career to speak out against corruption or fraud. It may just seem like a semantic issue, but how the media describe WikiLeaks can affect public perceptions. A whistle-blower is probably viewed positively, as an individual speaking out against wrongdoing.

Editors note: In hindsight, it makes sense that ‘whistleblower’ is not the most appropriate term for an organisation that is in fact a platform for whistleblowers. But then, “a website that specializes in displaying leaked information” is not exactly the most concise. I think ‘whistleblower’s website’ is a good compromise. Feel free to chime with suggestions though.

Have your say on the AP 2011 Stylebook

Do you find yourself critiquing news reports for poor writing style, bad punctuation or incorrect phrasing? If so then this is definitely one for you. The Associated Press (AP) has again opened up the floor to the public for entry suggestions to its 2011 Stylebook.

Last year the AP decided to ask for suggestions for its new section on social media and received 237 ideas in response.

Now the guide’s editors are asking for more suggestions for the next revision. The Stylebook itself features a main A-Z as well as the areas listed below:

  • Social Media Guidelines;
  • Business Guidelines;
  • Sport Guidelines;
  • Punctuation Guide;
  • Briefing on Media Law;
  • Photo Captions;
  • Interactive Department;
  • Filing Practices;
  • Filing the Wire.

The deadline for offering suggestions for the 2011 Stylebook is 15 November.

Going viral on steroids: New York Times style editor on his pet peeves

The New York Times’ style guide editor, Philip Corbett, shares some of the ‘phrases we love too much’ on the Times’ Topic blog today.

His pet peeves include the all too frequent use of “on steroids” to describe an extreme of something.

I thought the faddish use of “on steroids” to describe anything bigger or splashier had run its course. But three new examples in less than two weeks made me think again. Given its origins, the metaphor seems not only overdone but also a bit tone-deaf. After all, baseball players on steroids are not really new and improved; they’re cheating. Let’s consider giving this one a long rest.

Other modern turns of phrase, such as to ‘go viral’, also made his list.

In just two days recently, we reported that these things had “gone viral”: Helen Thomas’s comments on Israel, an obscure British blogger’s comments on the euro and a drinking game involving Smirnoff Ice. The phrase can be a handy shorthand, but it risks wearing out its freshness quickly. Let’s be judicious.

I personally see red every time someone giving a far-from-expert opinion on something is referred to as a ‘guru’.

See his full post here, and feel free to share your own overused phrase pet peeves below.

AP updates Stylebook with social media guidelines

The Associated Press (AP) has updated its Stylebook to include 42 new entries under a special social media section. The new edition of the style guide, which is widely used in the US and internationally, has changed its recommendation for “web site” to “website” and now includes terms such as “app”,” blogs”, “click-throughs”, “friend” and “unfriend”, “metadata”, “RSS”, “search engine optimisation”, “smart phone”, trending, widget and wiki. (Not all necessarily in keeping with the Journalism.co.uk house style…)

The new Stylebook also includes advice for journalists using social media for their work, in particular tips on how to use Twitter and Facebook effectively.

Full release at this link…

Reuters’ Handbook of Journalism goes online in full

“The handbook is the guidance Reuters journalists live by – and we’re proud of it,” writes Dean Wright, global editor, for ethics, innovation and news standards at Reuters.

“Until now, it hasn’t been freely available to the public. In the early 1990s, a printed handbook was published and in 2006 the Reuters Foundation published a relatively short PDF online that gave some basic guidance to reporters. But it’s only now that we’re putting the full handbook online.”

Full story at this link…

Handbook of Journalism at this link. Sections include:

  1. Standards and Values
  2. Guide to Operations
  3. General Style Guide
  4. Sports Style Guide
  5. Specialised Guidance
  6. Links