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The Madera Tribune

Illegal immigrant or would-be citizen?

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webmaster | 04/05/13

A few days ago, The Associated Press, of which The Madera Tribune is a member, made a change in its stylebook which has some of the public talking.

What is a stylebook? It’s a compendium of how a particular publication or news service. uses the language in which it is printed.

Many newspapers, particularly the smaller ones like ours, tend to adopt The Associated Press stylebook because it is a lot of trouble to change Associated Press stories to conform to any other particular style. Also, The Associated Press is the world’s biggest wire service, and as a result its style is the most widely read.

For example, here is how The AP uses numbers and numerals:

All numbers nine and under are spelled out (one, two, three, four, five six, seven, eight, nine), while numbers over nine appear as numerals (10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 ... and so on). However, if a number below 10 is an age, a person or thing, it is used as a numeral. It also is a numeral if it is used as a measurement: 2-by-4.

You might ask, “Why is that? Why not just use all numerals?” The answer to that question: Nobody knows. It is practice long entrenched in newspaper journalism. I also can tell you that many book and magazine publishers don’t follow AP style, but have made up their own.

But getting back to the style change AP has mandated: No longer will the phrase “illegal immigrant” be used in AP stories. In its place will be a less loaded term, such as “person who migrated to the country illegally.” Or something.

I think a lot of papers will resist that change, but it will be hard to firmly resist it unless copy editors and their bosses pay attention.

Perhaps the phrase “immigration-crime suspect” will emerge. Or, “persons who don’t appear to be in the country legally.”

Most immigrants, legal or not, come here to make better lives for themselves. A few commit crimes, but that can be said of some who were born here.

Perhaps “would-be citizen” would be accurate but less accusatory language.


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