Why Anyone In Media Needs an AP Stylebook

Posted by TJ Stallbaumer on 10/15/18 4:16 PM

In writing, as in life, things change. Venues for practicing the craft multiply, and the truly adept writer must be capable of altering his or her voice to reach diverse and fragmented audiences, each in search of information tailored to them.

To write well, we must all consider who we’re writing for. And the frequency with which audiences change begs for greater skill on the part of writers, even as attention spans shorten and the level at which people read real literature, and the written word in general, continues to decline. 

But there are places where writers can take solace—not in style, necessarily, but in those saving graces that remain unchanged. Those are things like syntax, grammar and the other “rules of writing.” And at the top of that list, for anyone whose work touches the media, should be an awareness of AP Style.

What’s AP Style, and Why Should I Know It?

AP Style is a set of guidelines established by the Associated Press, a U.S. based not-for-profit news agency that was founded in 1846, and quite literally wrote the book on how to write the news.

thinking 80s style

The AP Stylebook used to be a journalist’s bible—you know, back when people were reading newspapers and spelling words in their entirety. And though some pass journalism 101 and leave AP Style behind them, it’s a mistake you shouldn’t make.

If your writing is going to the media, it pays to know AP Style—and I mean that literally.

At 4media, we often give this piece of advice: In all things you do for a news station or a publication, aim to make the lives of producers, journalists and anyone involved with your work easy. That’s how you get earned coverage, make meaningful impressions and build relationships of value.

Writing well, and writing right, are both attainable if you adhere to some simple guidelines.

Does Anyone Actually Care About This Though?

Whether or not anyone actually cares about AP Style is a fair question. It’s one I used to field often. But for anyone trying to exist inside the media landscape, it answers some hugely important questions.

When should you abbreviate street or avenue? What’s the difference between affect and effect? What datelines stand alone at the beginning of a press release? How are you supposed to stylize numerals, dollar amounts and distances? Is it ever okay to say someone “pled” for anything? What about parts of speech? Is it a windup (noun and adjective) or a wind up (verb); and is that a middle-class (adjective) citizen or is it just that so many people fail to understand the plight of the middle class (noun); is this series of semicolons even correct? [Yes to that last one.]

All those answers and more lie in the AP Stylebook. If you care about coming correct, you need one.

This Is Not a Sponsored Post

It’s important I note this is not a sponsored post. The AP, unfortunately, has never paid me for anything—this is a post motivated by a passion for writing, and making the lives of media members across the country easier.

If you’re interested in some examples of how AP Style can motivate motion and increase efficacy, just reach out. We’re always looking for reasons to share some more case studies. 

Here are Some AP Style Tips to Remember When Writing for Journalists
- When you're writing for a press release to impress the journalists, don't forget about proper attribution. AP Style dictates that we always use the word said in attribution.

"That was a great game between two well-matched teams," Smith said. 

- Another thing people mess up as though it were their job is the use of apostrophes. Just because a word is plural does not mean it needs an apostrophe. Apostrophes show possession. Names, for example, only need apostrophes when someone is possessing something. People can, in a sense, possess actions too. 

"Brian's van looks particularly nice today," Smith said. 
"Warren Buffet's contributions to Omaha have been nearly nothing," Johnson said in sadness. 
Bonus Tip: The word "its" only ever needs an apostrophe when it is supposed to mean "it is" or, less formally, "it has." Stop putting apostrophes where they don't belong. 

Right: "That's an interesting way of thinking about how it's impacted this area," Wane said, as he considered his options for answering, and what they may do to his future with the company. 
Wrong: "That is it's preferred method of breaking," exclaimed Josh about his computer, as he threw his stress ball across the room--apparently it wasn't working.

- When you have to used numbers, remember these cool points: 

Write out one through nine; use numerals for 10 through 999,999; and when it comes to big numbers, use it all--987 million or 33 trillion. (The dollar sign, in case you were wondering, goes in front of all the numbers.) 

TJ Stallbaumer is 4media Group's Account Coordinator in Media and Research, where he focuses on delivering meaningful, click-worthy and research-driven content for clients and their brands. TJ worked in television news, where he was an online content editor and social media manager in a top-100 media market. TJ also spent time as a freelance longform journalist, and has had pieces featured in publications across Northwest Arkansas ranging in scope from 'social media's subliminal priming in political discussions' to a series detailing the area's best motorcycle roads. TJ has a master's degree in journalism from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, and is an NWA native living in Rogers.