Is it Icing or Frosting on the Cake: 2019 AP Stylebook Updates

4 min read

icing, cake

The Associated Press Stylebook is a comprehensive guide that sets standards for news reporters across the country. Entries cover a variety of terms, writing techniques, media law, data analysis, news values, and more. Journalists use the book like a bible—turning to its pages when they’re searching for answers and meaning. 

Because Well Done Marketing serves several organizations that have their own styles, it can be difficult to adhere to one set of rules in-house. However, we always start with AP style for our press releases and media advisories because that’s what most newsrooms use. This way, we help streamline journalists’ process of reviewing and publishing our clients’ news. 

Every year, AP Stylebook devotees wait with bated breath to see what the latest changes will be. The Associated Press forms a committee to review the previous year’s version to see what’s missing, what entries should be updated, and what can be removed. While it might feel like AP is trying to get us to buy the shiny, newest model, it’s important for public relations professionals to be aware of updates every year. 

So, what’s new?

So. So. Much. There are roughly 200 updates. I attended a Ragan workshop hosted by AP Stylebook Editor Paula Froke (still fangirling) who highlighted some of the major changes. I geeked out, so I thought I would share. 

Is it racist?

In my opinion, the most important update is the expanded five-page entry on race-related coverage. Reporters and editors must be more conscious of how the public digests race-related issues and changes needed to be made. Froke explained that this section required thoughtful consideration, and many open discussions were held across the country with minority journalism organizations and in newsrooms before the updates were made. 

Hyphenated American descriptions are a thing of the past. Terms like African American and Haitian Canadian were commonly hyphenated since the 19th century to distinguish “real” Americans from immigrants and were used as a form of microaggression. They’ve also added Latinx as a gender-neutral noun for people of Latin American origin or descent.

In addition, journalists now have permission to deem an act or statement racist instead of using non-committal terms like “racially motivated” or euphemisms like “racially charged.”  

How’s your health?

For many years, the book has contained several chapters that highlight specific topics such as food, fashion, sports, and religion. This year, the AP added a chapter on health, science and environment reporting. While it mostly explains how to cover these topics in the news, it also gives great insights to public relations specialists on how to identify newsworthy content. With the number of healthcare clients Well Done serves, we’ll definitely refer to this section often.

Where have all the hyphens gone?

The AP Stylebook always has an excellent section on punctuation and grammar. I think it’s one of the main reasons you should go out and buy this book today. It explains the use of quotation marks, apostrophes, commas, and more. 

The most exciting news is we can now use the percentage sign. For too long, we’ve been regulated to spelling out the word “percent” 100% of the time. It was 1,000% a pain in the butt. 

The committee also analyzed the overuse of hyphens and the new motto is “the fewer hyphens, the better.” In general, hyphens should be used to “avoid ambiguity or to form a single idea from two or more words.” AP has lifted the requirements to hyphenate double “e” combinations (reentry, preempted) and commonly recognized compound modifiers (climate change, first quarter touchdown). 

Other changes: Apostrophes can now be used with measurements that are followed by nouns (three months’ work), but not when the quantity precedes an adjective (six months pregnant). We’re also able to add accent marks to people’s names or words that require them when they appear in people’s quotes statements. AP woefully recognizes that it’s sometimes necessary to split the infinitive to convey meaning to readers—see what I did there?

What’s on my cake and what about Mrs. Claus? 

It’s now acceptable to use “frosting” OR “icing” to describe a topping of sugar and butter applied to cakes, cookies and pastries because the reference varies by region. Finally! No more missed deadlines or drawn-out debates in newsrooms across the country on how to describe the buttercream, meringue or ganache. 

AP looked at the list, checked it twice and realized there wasn’t a reference for Santa Claus. It’s “nice in any reference” to write “Santa Claus,” but “naughty” to use “Claus” in subsequent references. AP also clarified that “Mrs. Claus” is good for goodness sake to use as a reference to Santa’s wife. 

Is 200 too many?

On behalf of our PR department, I can confidently say that all of this year’s updates were necessary and well received. We’ll be spreading our message of fewer hyphens, acceptable split infinitives, appropriate apostrophe placement, and how to reference Santa Claus throughout the halls of Well Done. 

Got questions? We’ll try to have the answer! Tweet your AP Style questions or what your favorite update was to @welldonemktg.