Photo Credit: Sean Kilpatrick, The Canadian Press
If you work in public relations, chances are you come in contact with your Canadian Press style guide on a daily basis. Love it or hate it, style guidelines keep writers across Canada consistent, accurate and constantly in debate over whether to write affect or effect. James McCarten is Editor of the CP Stylebook and Caps and Spelling and is also the Ottawa News Editor at the Canadian Press. We had a chance to catch up with James and find out when the new editions are coming, what influences a change and a few tips for PR folk.
Follow him @CdnPressStyle
Tell me about your role
In addition to being the Ottawa news editor, I am the editor of both the Stylebook and the companion volume Caps and Spelling. The work as Ottawa news editor occupies me most of the time, especially during election campaigns (!), so I had to set the work on the books aside during this most recent campaign. But being an editor who is in the trenches most days allows me to have a hands-on experience with the copy each day and put our style policies to work, seeing up close what works and what doesn’t.
What are the influences that make you recommend a change?
Changing usage, usually. Language is constantly evolving, and it is defined by how widely accepted certain conventions become. If I could go back in time and tell my predecessors that in the 21st century, “app” has replaced the word “application” for computer software, they would think I was crazy. Or that we will occasionally forego correct spelling or punctuation in a tweet to avoid losing its unique character. So as a term or an expression comes into vogue, we assess whether it has staying power, and decide accordingly.
I’m also receptive to sensible lobbying, as we do occasionally have rules and terms that have long since become dated – our rationale for hyphenating terms like “think-tank” or “blue-line,” for instance, has long since gone away – so we don’t do that anymore.
How important are these guides to CP’s overall business?
They’re a significant part of the bottom line, but I think they’re more valuable to us as tools that guide not only our journalism, but that of others across the country. They are a big part of our journalistic identity, since we are seen as setting a standard for others. It’s a role we take extremely seriously.
How do you compete in a digital world?
Online subscriptions are available for both volumes in a searchable database, allowing subscribers to always have the most up-to-date versions of the contents of the books. We’re also in the process of developing an online curriculum with Ryerson University that’s based on the books. We have over the years explored the possibility of a smartphone app, but we’ve never been able to make it cost-effective. And I hear regularly from people who still thumb through their paper editions.
What spelling/grammar crime irks you the most?
Misplaced apostrophes. It’s vs its seems to be impossible to figure out for some people, and yet it’s so easily avoided! I get a little ragey when I see ‘peak’ and ‘peek’ mixed up, too.
What is your best recommendation for PR people?
Try to make a personal connection with newsroom denizens. It makes it that much harder to delete your releases. Email from a stranger, on the other hand, is just spam.
When is the next edition coming?
A new Caps and Spelling is just going to the printers now and should be out next month. The 18th edition of the Stylebook will either be next year or early 2017.
Are you a woah or a whoa person?
Whoa, for sure. There are woah people?
Give an editor a break. If you’re supposed to be following CP style, learn it!