Judgment Call

Let’s talk about style

Acor Arceo
Let’s talk about style
I’m Acor Arceo, Rappler’s head of copy and editorial standards. It’s a new position created in late 2020, with the goal of ensuring quality and consistency across our sections and units.

Journalists almost always jump at the chance to receive free food – one of the eternal truths in any newsroom, whether physical or virtual, pandemic or no pandemic.

What’s that got to do with style, you ask?

Well, we’ve been joking within Rappler’s Central Desk that editors caught violating our recently released style guide should be sending food to colleagues as penance. Could that be the best way to banish style sins?

I’m Acor Arceo, Rappler’s head of copy and editorial standards. It’s a new position created in late 2020, with the goal of ensuring quality and consistency across our sections and units. This means I’m in charge of creating content rules and making sure they’re implemented, in coordination with my fellow editors.

It’s often a process of messaging back and forth, laying out options, making adjustments, and finally reaching a consensus that yes, this word is capitalized, or no, we shouldn’t go with that angle. Discussions can range from trivial to serious, from hilarious to sober.

One of the most basic rules, of course, is not to misspell any word. One missing letter can turn a noteworthy initiative (community pantry) into underwear for the entire neighborhood (community panty), as we’ve unfortunately discovered a number of times in the past few weeks. I told them to Ctrl + F and look for panty… to make sure it isn’t there.

Editors who are into K-pop and K-dramas had to educate the rest of us that it was best to follow how artists spelled their names. “Really, it’s BLACKPINK, not Blackpink?” We spent a bit more time on that, absorbing how fandoms worked while also worrying how some names could look in titles (“What if they’re spelled in sTiCky CaPs?”). In the end, the fans prevailed.

We agonized over acronyms at some point, too. How can editors and writers memorize how to spell dozens of acronyms? We considered imposing a general rule to make everything all caps, but realized that no, it wouldn’t work. See, one of our considerations when deciding on style is what’s familiar to you, our readers, or widely accepted among the general public. Can DepEd be converted into a screaming DEPED, for example? Should we suddenly shift to PHILHEALTH instead of PhilHealth? Not advisable. We chose to stick to the most common way of spelling an acronym.

One of the rules we did ditch was the way we write numbers. It was previously one, two, 3, 4, 5, and so on, going against the rest of the world who favored one to nine, 10, 11, etc. But it actually doesn’t make sense to start digits at three, so why should we? We finally decided to spell out one to nine as well, only using digits for 10 onwards. This was one of the changes we easily approved, making me wonder why we didn’t implement it much sooner.

Another easy guideline to include, particularly for me, was the one emphasizing that not every weather disturbance is a “typhoon.” I handle our weather stories and oversee our coverage of disasters, and this is one of the things I repeatedly point out. A typhoon, in fact, is a type of tropical cyclone. No, it’s not the same as a tropical depression. Yes, we have to specify what kind it is – simply for accuracy – and even more so because weather reporting may involve life or death.

If types of tropical cyclones aren’t interchangeable, so are places, obviously. Early on in the pandemic, one of our titles managed to put Cebu in Western Visayas, instead of Central Visayas. Absolutely horrible, and again, our apologies! Geography is basic and we should always get it right. Standards also demand that we tell you which Zamboanga we’re referring to, for example, because there are several possibilities: Zamboanga Peninsula, Zamboanga City, Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay. It’s all about being precise.

Speaking of being precise, we also consider the inclination to use reveal somewhat of a crime. As we say in our style guide, “Use reveal only when you really mean it – to make known through divine inspiration, to make something secret or hidden public, to open up to view.” In most instances, show and disclose are more appropriate, or why not good old said?

There’s also the dreaded niyo, which should really be ‘nyo, coming from ninyo. This is probably among our most committed errors, despite reminders that there’s no such word as niniyo and the proper contraction is ‘nyo. We certainly need to apply exacting standards to Philippine languages as well.

There are many more style rules and common errors, which we in Rappler alert each other about on a daily basis. We also get messages from concerned readers calling our attention to mistakes or pointing out things which may need clarification, and for those readers we are truly grateful.

If you do spot a community panty or any other error, feel free to send us a message at desk@rappler.com. We’ll appreciate it a lot!

Acor Arceo

Acor Arceo is the head of copy and editorial standards at Rappler. Trained in both online and TV newsrooms, Acor supervises Rappler’s coverage of disasters, handles the business desk, and ensures consistency in editorial standards across all sections.