The new normalcy

2 Feb

We’ve got a newsroom in New York run by an Australian, a newsroom in Sydney run by a Briton and an editor-in-chief who’s been in charge of all three offices (UK, US, Australia). But the Tribune’s style guide is still edited from London and views the world from an essentially British-English point of view.

Or at least it did: but maybe that’s starting to change. The last hardback edition of the Tribune’s style guide (still available in some good bookshops) was published in 2010. But the online version, which is what we use in the office, has been continually updated over the last five-plus years. And as the paper has spread around the world over the past four years, you can clearly see that it is beginning to pull the style guide out towards it.

For example, in 2010 the hardback edition simply said:

aeroplane not airplane

Now, in 2016, the website says:

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 12.12.36

Six years ago, all that was necessary in this entry was to clarify a distinction over capitalisation:

Aborigines, Aboriginal uppercase (uc) when referring to native Australians

aborigines, aboriginal lowercase (lc) when referring to indigenous populations

Now, after two years of producing news in Sydney, it says this:

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 12.38.30

And so it goes on. Then:

A&E accident and emergency

Now:

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 12.52.07

Then:

telephone numbers should be hyphenated after three or four-figure area codes, but not  five-figure area codes: 020-3353 2000, 0161-832 7200; 01892 456789, 01227 123456; treat mobile phone numbers as having five-figure area codes: 07911 654321

Now:

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 12.57.37

And several entirely new entries have appeared in the online version to cover British usages that we never previously suspected were unfamiliar:

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 12.42.36

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 12.50.30

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 13.00.25

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 14.29.05

The Tribune’s international expansion programme is happening very much by design rather than by accident. And, as we have previously discussed, it was never likely, or even desirable, that projects deliberately intended to function as native news organisations in different countries could stick rigidly to British style abroad. The paper’s faint institutional distaste for Americanisms, and its genuine unfamiliarity with Australian idiom, were quickly driven out once actual Americans and Australians began using the same document. A style guide changes with time, but it also changes with geography, it seems; not by moving with history, but simply by moving abroad.

And, when it does, what you end up with is something that’s bigger and more nuanced than it was before, fuller than ever of distinctions and exceptions and special cases. That doesn’t mean chaos, or that there are suddenly three right answers to every question: but it does need an especially sensitive ear for audience, writer and tone to make the right choice. And who better than a sub-editor for a task like that?

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4 Responses to “The new normalcy”

  1. Lisa Oliver February 2, 2016 at 1:49 pm #

    Great article Ed!

    Lisa Oliver Sent from my iPhone

    >

  2. Jeff February 3, 2016 at 9:54 pm #

    One that always catches my eye is the way that Americans seem to use the word ‘horrible’. It appears that it’s just a synonym for ‘bad’ – the traffic was horrible, my vacuum cleaner is horrible and so on. My feeling is that in British English there should be some kind of sensory reaction to justify the use of the word, so the weather can be horrible or your vacuum cleaner can be a horrible colour or make a horrible noise. Our use of ‘terrible’ is probably closer to their use of ‘horrible’!

    • edlatham February 3, 2016 at 10:20 pm #

      Yes, true! Andc you hear it a lot in US sport as well (‘their relief pitching is horrible’).

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