A is for abattoir; Z is for ZULU: All in the Handbook of Journalism

July 9, 2009

dean-150Dean Wright is Global Editor, Ethics, Innovation and News Standards. Any opinions are his own.

The first entry is abattoir (not abbatoir); the last is ZULU (a term used by Western military forces to mean GMT).

In between are 2,211 additional entries in the A-to-Z general style guide, part of the Reuters Handbook of Journalism, which we are now making available online. Also included in the handbook are sections on standards and values; a guide to operations; a sports style guide and a section of specialised guidance on such issues as personal investments by journalists, dealing with threats and complaints and reporting information found on the internet.

The handbook is the guidance Reuters journalists live by — and we’re proud of it. Until now, it hasn’t been freely available to the public. In the early 1990s, a printed handbook was published and in 2006 the Reuters Foundation published a relatively short PDF online that gave some basic guidance to reporters. But it’s only now that we’re putting the full handbook online.

We’ve decided to make the handbook available to everyone for a number of reasons. Among them:

  • Transparency: At a time when trust is an endangered commodity in the financial and media worlds, it’s important that news consumers see the guidelines our journalists follow.
  • Service: As we’ve seen over the past decade, the barriers to publishing have dropped so that anyone with an idea and a computer can be a publisher. But it’s also become clear that publishers have a varying standard of truth, fairness and style. Our handbook is a good place for budding journalists to begin.
  • Geography: Reuters serves a global audience and the handbook recognises the cultural and political differences that our journalists face in reporting for the world. This is a handbook not just for English-language journalists in the United Kingdom or the United States, but for wherever English is used.

Many entries deal with words that are sometimes confused or misused. Turning randomly to the “H” section, we learn the difference between hyperthermia and hypothermia (The latter means “Too cold. Think that o rhymes with low” while the former means “Too hot. Think of ‘er’ as in very.”); Haarlem and Harlem (the latter is in New York City, the former in the Netherlands); hangar and hanger (the latter is for clothes, the former a shelter for aircraft); and hale and hail (the former means “free from disease, or to pull or haul by force.” The latter “is to salute or call out, or an ice shower”).

We take a global approach to the spelling of many words. Often, it’s the United States against the world. For instance, our preferred style is “artefact,” except in the U.S., where it’s artifact. Same goes for axe and axeing — our standards for most of the world — which become ax and axing in the U.S. There’s also “backwards,” which loses its “s” in American stories, and “leukaemia,” which loses that first “a” in the U.S. There’s plenty more: tyre and tire, titbit and tidbit, and defence and defense.

In the world of diplomacy, economics and academe, the G3 is Germany, Japan and the U.S.; the G5 extends membership to France and the U.K.; G7 grows the club to Canada and Italy; make it G8 with Russia; G10 adds Belgium, the Netherlands and Sweden. As for the G24, G30 and G77, you’ll have to look for yourself (we’ve got entries for them, too).

There are slang words to avoid (posh — though one former Spice Girl might object) and a number of common misspellings (Viet Cong, not Vietcong; ventricle, not ventrical; machinegun, not machine gun; and ketchup, not catchup or catsup).

The sports section of the handbook offers a list of sports cliches to avoid (hard fought, made history, veteran, bounce back, and icon), the difference between a field and a pitch (the former’s where American football and baseball are played), and an explanation of delight as a transitive verb that needs an object (“Marat Safin delighted Russian fans with a neat chip…not Marat Safin delighted with a chip.”). Words like disaster and tragedy shouldn’t be used in sports stories, as this devalues the significance of these words (“Losing a football match is not a disaster. A stand falling down and crushing a fan is”).

When language implies a value judgment, we must use words very carefully (cult, for instance: One person’s cult is another’s religion). The entry for “good, bad” advises: “For financial and commodity markets good news and bad news depends on who you are and what your position is in the market. Avoid them.”

One of the most controversial entries is that of “terrorism.” The entry reads, in part:

“We may refer without attribution to terrorism and counter-terrorism in general but do not refer to specific events as terrorism. Nor do we use the adjective word terrorist without attribution to qualify specific individuals, groups or events. … Report the subjects of news stories objectively, their actions, identity and background. Aim for a dispassionate use of language so that individuals, organisations and governments can make their own judgment on the basis of facts. Seek to use more specific terms like “bomber” or “bombing”, “hijacker” or “hijacking”, “attacker” or “attacks”, “gunman” or “gunmen” etc.”

This policy has been passionately debated inside and outside Reuters. As  the handbook says, “we aim for dispassionate language” so that our customers can “make their own judgment on the basis of facts.”

Reuters Editor-in-Chief David Schlesinger puts it this way:

“Over the years we have been criticised for this policy on numerous occasions, when people or governments wanted us to label an incident ourselves rather than quote their views. Criticism of our policy was especially fierce when the United States was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. Reuters made the decision not to describe the attackers as terrorists, because we thought a label would not add to our vivid description of the thousands of deaths and the destruction of the iconic twin towers of the World Trade Center. In the years since, as the world has witnessed numerous other attacks, we’ve chosen to continue that policy of sticking with the facts and letting our readers make up their own minds based on our reporting and the evidence we present them.”

It’s important to point out that the handbook is a living document, one that preserves rules that have guided Reuters journalists through a century and half but also one that may change when the times change.  It’s also important to note that the handbook is produced by humans who aren’t infallible — and it’s used by humans who aren’t infallible, so sometimes we make mistakes. I’m sure you’ll let us know when we do, but we’re usually harder on ourselves than anyone else is.

I hope you’ll find the handbook useful, whether you’re a journalist, a student, a teacher or an engaged reader. And we welcome your comments and suggestions.

29 comments

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In the Sports Style Guide, American usage section, the heading for hockey is misleading. Common American usage runs the reverse of Reuters guidance here — hockey without a qualifier refers to the game on ice, where the game on grass is *always* described in the USA as field hockey.

Posted by Josh Crockett | Report as abusive

I am so glad this is now available to the general public. it is a great reference and will be very helpful for all those in the communications field.

Thanks for making this available!!

However, I can’t get the PDF to download. Clicking on the link consistently dumps me on a page that reads simply: “”

I can’t wait to read it, but I don’t have time to sit and read the whole thing on my computer.

The PDF download worked for me. The download speed was a bit slow on my DSL connection, but if worked and I have the entire handbook. Thanks for doing this! I wish other news organizations with similar handbooks, which shall remain nameless, would do the same. It might increase respect for the profession.

Posted by Surfside | Report as abusive

Thank you! I am so excited about this. The PDF download isn’t working for me either…

Posted by Liana | Report as abusive

Thank you! Despite the rather specialized (oops, specialised) nature of Reuters journalism and the differences between our two branches of English, this can be a fine teaching tool.
No matter what happens with forms of presentation, we believe credibility, sourcing, accuracy, relevance, clarity, honesty, fairness and such should always be paramount.
Students wonder why they must struggle with the Associated Press Stylebook; this will help them see the bigger picture. (I saw it on Romanesko.)
–John McClelland, associate professor of journalism, emeritus; Roosevelt University, Chicago.

I’d love to, preferably in its entirety – and maybe I’m just thick [sic] – but I’m not seeing exactly where to download this wonderful resource in .pdf format. I believe this could and should be made easier.

Transparency, anyone?

Posted by The Bell | Report as abusive

Moderator: Instead of displaying this, you might wish to have someone attend to the matter of Handbook pdf downloads. The references in prior posts to a pdf download baffle me too, because I cannot even find a link for that on this blog nor on handbook.reuters.com.

Posted by John McClelland | Report as abusive

Note to those who have raised questions: We have been having some technical issues with the PDF format, which we’re working to resolve. In the meantime, we’ve removed the PDF download link from the main page.

Posted by Dean Wright | Report as abusive

Awesome! I’m just going into a Postgrad Journalism course next year – will be quite helpful.

Posted by stephen | Report as abusive

It is a great news for those who cant afford to be a respectable journalist. Thanks heaps!

Posted by Wendy | Report as abusive

i teach journalism in ohio. thank you for publishing your style guide online. my students will appreciate it. goodbye AP Stylebook!

Posted by jon | Report as abusive

I am sure that the Reuters style book availability is a boon to aspiring and practical journalists. As a longtime Reuters stringer of long ago, I am sure the style book should abort the long ago practice of editors phoning late at night to ask why a Reuters story did not carry a presidential candidate’s quote that appeared in the New York Times. Or is the lemming-like practice of early 21st Century candidate follower journalists a theme of the style book? I can hardly wait to read it. Thanks.

Alfie1134

Posted by Tom McNiff | Report as abusive

“Also included in the handbook are …and reporting information found on the internet.”–oops–per Internet entry in the Handbook…”Capitalise as a noun, lower case as an adjective e.g. internet banking, internet cafe.”

Posted by Adie | Report as abusive

Thank you for making this available.

While I have the opportunity, I would just like to mention that the conspicuous absence of a word where one might logically expect it is, in and of itself, a kind of statement; taking excrutiating pains to avoid the word “terrorist”, when it is clearly appropriate for a given situation, in some ways more strongly posits a point of view than simply using it carefully. It’s an irony worth noting.

Thank you again.

Brenda Giguere

Many thanks! A service to the community at large as well as budding journalists and bloggers.

Posted by Carrie Williamson | Report as abusive

Thank you for posting this. I hope other news organizations will do the same.

Kudos for posting this. Transparency is especially important for all news-media organizations today, along with Accountability and Openness. I called this “The TAO of Journalism” in a piece I wrote that was posted on Romenesko a few weeks ago.
Here’s the link: http://poynter.org/column.asp?id=45&aid= 163304

Promoting ethical and accurate journalism has been the mission of the Washington News Council since 1998. Are we making a difference? Decide for yourself by visiting http://www.wanewscouncil.org. The more public involvement and citizen feedback on matters of media ethics, the better! News Councils are no panacea, but they can help.

I enjoy reading or witnessing in any form,of reasonable dialog:be that from the group of ordinary people in presenting their concepts of an issue(what originates it, the stage in its development it is at,the suggested solutions and its side effects on the community)or from the group known as the “elite”.The meaning and conclusions drawn from an analysis of all this activity, are so complex,varied to the extent that some times there is no apparent relation of one in terms ofthe other,that a viable conclusion may some time escape journalists. The gathering and presentation of news and lelaated activitities is a laudable way of life interms of its impact on everybody

Posted by Felix Ramon Lopez | Report as abusive

Thanks!

Posted by De | Report as abusive

Journalist terms (A cynic’s collection):

Balanced- Whatever bias the editor choose to include in the article.

Transparent- Perfectly understandable to anyone who already agrees with the presented view.

War Crime- Anything Israel does. Even when it seems to comply with UN laws.

Reputable Sources- Whatever sources we choose to base our article on, but do not feel the need to disclose.

Correction- An apology for the fact that you obviously must have misunderstood our article.

Terrorist- An objective definition for anyone who deliberately directs military attacks at civilians, for the purpose of killing civilians. But as many of our readers may support terrorists, we should pretend the term is too subjective to use.

Lie- Something that can always be included in an article, as long as it is quoted or paraphrased from another person, and can not be said to be the reporter’s own assertion.

Facts- Something you must never falsify, but should always imply. Like a bombed UN hospital.

Integrity- The overt excuse for one’s indignant outrage, when one’s credibility is brought into question.

Truth- Any belief or opinion that has been repeated so often in blogs, that it is now accepted at face value as a proven fact, and hence no longer requires supporting evidence when asserted in debate.

Posted by Anon | Report as abusive

A quick update: The PDF function has been restored and is available on the main page of the handbook. And thanks to all who have taken the time to comment.

Posted by Dean Wright | Report as abusive

The handbook idea is a great one, and making it online publicly is an even greater one. I speak as a former news agency, newspaper, radio and television reporter, and retired j-school professor. It is time we brought concepts such as attribution, transparency, objectivity and factuality back to journalism.
good luck. give us more.

Posted by Jan George Frajkor | Report as abusive

Great step forward for transparency and to improve the work both of journalists and PR’s! I believe this will help everybody, both English-writing and others…

Say, Dean —

For the record “zulu” has a variety of meanings; however, the one to which you referred to as “a term used by Western military forces to mean GMT” I think actually means times measured in Coordinated Universal Time, a successor to Greenwhich Mean Time (GMT). It’s a time standard that is not affected by time zones or seasons.

I suppose the editors of your Reuters style guide believe you will never report on a story involving the Zulus — the really tall people of South Africa. Why is that? Surely something news worthy just might occur involving the 10 to 11 million people whom are Zulu.

Posted by Sharon McEachern | Report as abusive

This may fall into your ethical debate, albiet it is more topical. My main concern is to challenge what I see as a deliberate effort on the part of the WHO to obfuscate relative data that they were providing up until july 16th, then decided that the general public is not entitled to know just how many people are being effected by H1N1 flu pandemic.
Apparently the gravity of this epidemic is being played down intentionally, or the News organizations which you represent are a sleep at the wheel.
The WHO is supposed to the ultimate source of information , why take away the statistics that we were getting? My premise is that they really don’t want people to know just how bad it is really going to get. You as journalist should be outraged. This is not ehtical, look at what the numbers represent. Up unto July 16th, the 1st 100,000 confrimations of H1N1 flu had been documented. The fiqures represented depicted a mortality rate of approximately .48%, that is in the first wave of the Flu epidemic, which from historical data we know that there are three waves. If we take the mortallity of the 1st wave and apply this to the general population , in the U.S. alone if the flu were to run its course throughout the population the death rate would be 1.5 million, as opposed to the average death rate per yr of 36,000.The second wave which is going to hit in the fall & winter should be predictably worse( per research done with the Spanish Flu epedemic with this strain is a direct decentant of) Hello is any body out there!, this is like Katrina, anybody with some walking around sense knew what was coming, and sat on their ass’s and did absolutely bumpcus. If this isn’t something to get real about, you had better dop the math and get with it. This is not spin time , this is about doing something right. You are now officially put on record to service the public you are supposed to serve. Do something.

This is great stuff. I am not a journlist, but find it really helpful in communication per say. Thank you.

Posted by Poonam Singh | Report as abusive

Some good stuff to read… enjoyed your post, thanks..