CP Style Guide anxiety

This entry is for those of you who have ever used, or still use, the CP Stylebook, or what I like to refer to, with my students at Centennial College’s School of Journalism, in Toronto, as “The Bible”.
Last fall, during a mock court room trial that we put on in class to prepare students to cover a criminal court case in Superior Court, I had the “clerk” swear witnesses in using the CP Style Guide, and they swore to tell the truth the whole truth etc etc etc by placing their hands on the blue “Bible”.
Why so much reverence for the Stylebook? In fact, come to think of it, I don’t remember having to use one when I was in Journalism School at Carleton University all those years ago ( 1983 graduate!). And in my 27 year (so far) career at CBC, CTV, and as a foreign correspondent in Europe, and for Vatican Radio, I don’t think I ever picked one up. But since I began teaching journalism at Centennial College (2005), I’ve had to adopt it as part of the required course texts and learn its contents in order to teach print and radio and television journalism.
I know my students fret about the proper way to spell Mafia– is it with a capital M or a small m? How about Hells Angels? Does Hell’s have an apostrophe? What about police chief? These and other questions have become extremely important because we have a policy of deducting 10% for misspelled proper names, and that includes places, names, or things in the CP Stylebook.
Last fall, lots of students lost marks for not writing Mafia with a capital M. This was a result of a guest lecture by Toronto Star crime reporter Peter Edwards, who spoke about various cases he has covered, including organized crime.
The 18th edition of the CP caps and spelling book, page 122, lists Mafia with a capital M. Mafia; Mafioso; Mafiosi, including members, singular and plural.
How interesting that in the last couple of weeks, the exact issue has made its way onto the pages of the Canadian Association of Journalists’ list-serve, and a discussion has been going on about why Mafia should or should not be capitalized. One academic says it should not be, since there is no one single entity called the Mafia, especially not in Sicily. Rather, it is a phenomenon and part of a larger social reality. He argues that the media elevates the mafia to Mafia when it adds a capital letter.
The editor of the CP Stylebooks, Patti Tasko, got a lot of publicity a few years ago for putting the F word into the guide. page 82 18th edition Caps and Spelling, fuck. No capitals. Small f. Avoid, it says, with few exceptions.
When the word spread about the F-word being in the latest guide, Tasko told audiences that the word made it into the Stylebook because it’s being used so much more routinely now, and that her Canadian Press Stylebooks evolve just as language usage does. Hyphens come and go.
While other news organizations in North American may use different style guides, and overseas newsrooms use still others, by sticking with CP we at least have a standard or a basis to learn from. Using the CP guide trains journalism students to work harder at their writing, to be accurate, and to be careful, and to understand rules of grammar and spelling.
Perhaps the discussion about Mafia or mafia will prompt changes in the 19th edition in the future. Until then, I am sticking with the 18th edition of the CP guide on this one.
If you would like to comment or contact me: http://www.centennialcollege.ca/thecentre

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