#APStyleChat: Religion style in 140 characters or less

Speaking of totally geeky things to do (“geeky” as in “absolutely awesome”), the folks at @APStylebook organized a Twitter chat this week on religion writing style.

With the hashtag #APStyleChat, the discussion featured guest expert Rachel Zoll, The Associated Press’ national religion writer. AP’s Colleen Newvine described the chat this way:

People sometimes call AP Stylebook the journalist’s bible, but today we’re hosting a Twitter chat on actual religion.

Your friendly neighborhood GetReligionistas were, of course, curious about the chat and followed it as closely as possible while busy solving other world problems. (A side note: The official @APStylebook Twitter page, which has about 122,000 followers, is different from the unofficial @FakeAPStylebook Twitter page, which has nearly 300,000 followers and takes a, hmmmm, tad more irreverent view of journalistic style issues.)

You can check out the entire chat here, but I wanted to highlight a few of the style guidelines advised:

Those all seem like logical, straightforward approaches. The notion of asking a group to define itself fits with GetReligion’s general mantra that reporters should afford religious people the opportunity to explain what they believe and characterize themselves. On the Mormon item, I recall writing a story one time in which I inadvertently capitalized the “Day” after “Latter.” I was quickly corrected by someone who knew better. Evidently, the capitalized “Day” has a specific meaning.

Another tweet hit at the F-word that has been the subject of so many GetReligion posts over the years:

From 1,300 miles away, I am almost certain I heard Terry Mattingly yelling “Amen!” after that tweet.

Finally, there was this style recommendation:

That note prompted this response from one chat participant (a dude with 138,681 tweets to his credit as of this moment… WOW!):

Weird, huh? Actually, I’ve always kind of thought that myself. I don’t know that I’ve ever interviewed someone who referred to a priest as “the Reverend” instead of “Father,” so I wonder why the AP Stylebook recommends that approach (not that the full response would fit in the 140 characters allowed by a tweet). I know that some newspapers veer from that specific AP style as a means of ensuring consistent language in the story text and direct quotes (by calling a priest “Father” in both instances).

What say you, GetReligion readers? Do you agree with the AP style on priests or have any insight on the proper usage? Any comments or questions related to the other style questions that were addressed?

By the way, if you’re not already following @getreligion on Twitter, why not?

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • deacon john m. bresnahan

    What about Orthodox Christian or Eastern Catholic priests???

  • Kate

    Maybe because ‘Father’ implies a pastoral relationship, whereas Rev. is more a title? Just guessing here. :-)

  • FW Ken

    I’ve seen The Rev. Fr. Jim Martin. And its not a pastoral relationship, but a sign of his office. You may not recognize that office, but he may not be much “reverend”, either. Some Catholics like to argue over the propriety of “Father Jim” vs. “Father Martin”, but that way beyond an AP issue.

    In any case, since everyone is going with “the Prophet Mohammed”, what’s the beef with calling a priest “Father”?

  • asshur

    IIRC Reverend Father is/was THE formal style for a Catholic priest, and plain Reverend for a protestant minister ( Wikipediaseems to agree -cum grano salis, as usual). The AP norm in this regard is quite odd …

  • http://tolivewouldbe.blogspot.com/ Beth

    “Reverend” is the official title of a Catholic priest. In any sort of formal writing (from academic writing to addressing envelopes), it is the appropriate term to use. “Father” is an informal title. The Wikipedia article linked above refers to a spoken address of Roman Catholic clergy. This one refers to use in writing: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Reverend#Roman_Catholic.

  • Plow

    In correspondence from the Vatican to priests, you’ll see them addressed as Reverendus Pater … Reverend Father.

  • http://amycavender.org Amy Cavender

    My own instinct would be to use “the Rev. James Martin, SJ” on the first reference, and “Fr. Martin” thereafter.

  • Sam

    AP Stylebook may be the journalist’s Bible, but the CNS (Catholic News Service) Stylebook on Religion is the Catholic journalist’s Gospel. According to CNS, Father is the proper title for priests. “In general, Protestant ministers, including Anglicans and Episcopalians, should be identified as the Rev. on first and Rev. on subsequent references.” All religion reporters should own a copy of the CNS Stylebook. (Contact cns@catholicnews.com)

  • Dave

    Amy’s got it.
    I’m a Protesant minister myownself. I’m referred to as “The Rev. Dr. strude86″ in the first instance and “Pastor strude86″ at every subsequent passing reference.
    What I wonder about, having grown up Catholic, is when the word “Cardinal” moved from between the given name and surname of the Eminence to a preceding title?

    • Penta

      Good question. I know the original tradition you refer to is still followed by some newsrooms – on the other hand, it’s been replaced by others, who I think justify that by pointing out that the original is a Latinism that doesn’t really fit in English.

  • http://prounione.wordpress.com Andrew

    Weird is that AP insists on referring to the Catholic Church as the Roman Catholic Church, thus leaving all the beautiful variety of the Eastern Catholics (who are not Roman, but certainly Catholic) on the wayside…

  • Deacon Jim Stagg

    I would be completely satisfied if they just got the difference between “Catholic” and “catholic” correct.

  • http://blogs.courier-journal.com/faith/ Peter Smith

    I think the switch to Father is overdue. It’s clearly the official and preferred title, used by Catholic News Service, in Catholic directories and in colloquial speech. But would that extend to Episcopal priests? Perhaps one advantage of Rev. is that it simplifies all the complexities of more specific titles — Canon this, Dean that, Very Rev. that, etc., terms that the wider reading public is unfamiliar with. And what about denominations, and strains within denominations, that pointedly don’t want to use Rev.? Some Baptist pastors get offended if you call them that; others get offended if you don’t. Some priests spend 30 years working their way up to bishop. Other preachers put on a white collar, open a storefront and assume that title.
    The way is fraught with verbal minefields. Fundamentalist. Cult. Homosexual. Gay. Evangelical. Lower-case orthodox. The Middle East should have its own pocket dictionary of loaded terms. Like “peace.” And “wall.”

    • Bobby Ross Jr.

      Excellent points and questions.

      Of course, we in the Churches of Christ are forever frustrated with the media calling our ministers “pastor” and “Rev.”

      AP style speaks to this somewhat. Not that anybody checks it. :-)

  • Peggy R

    Some Catholic priests’ full titles are “Rt. Reverend” or “Very Reverend” as well. Some orders have clergy with the title “Canon” also. Priests affiliated with religious orders have acronyms of their order behind their names. And some priests are “Monsignor”. I can see “Fr” or “Msgr” being used in subsequent references. It seems to me that the full title should be provided in the first mention, as with any other official (secular or religious) mentioned in an article.


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