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Reader Advocate: No disrespect, father, it's just a style thing

Published May 6, 2006 1:17 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2006, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Sometimes, the official spelling and grammatical style that a newspaper adopts confuses individual readers.

This e-mail is typical of one we receive about the use of religious titles in articles dealing with members of the clergy:

"I am writing in regard to the nice article you wrote titled 'Orthodox Christians get ready for Easter.'

"It was an informative article and many of us of the Orthodox faith enjoyed it very much. In the article you mentioned [Father] Kouremetis with his proper title.

"This was fine. The second time you mentioned his name you referred to him as Kouremetis. Totally out of line.

"He should be referred to as Father at all times. Men of the cloth should be referred to with respect. In another one of your articles 'St. Peter's marks 500th anniversary,' you referred to Pope Benedict XVI. Later you referred to him as Benedict at the start of the next paragraph. Please show a little more respect when referring to other religious leaders. This not nit-picking, it's just respect of the cloth."

We understand that certain religious traditions have unique ways of referring to their individual clergy.

To use all those titles in The Salt Lake Tribune regularly would confuse readers who did not understand the nuances of the individual religions.

We use The Associated Press Stylebook for guidance on the titles.

Peggy Fletcher Stack, veteran religion writer for The Tribune, notes that the practice makes it easier for readers to understand who is saying something or who is the subject of an article.

The AP holds that the first reference to a clergy person should include a capitalized title, usually "the Rev." before the person's name. On second reference "to members of the clergy, use only a last name: the Rev. Billy Graham on first reference, Graham on second."

Why has this been standardized? For the same reason that almost all news stories use only a form of the verb "say," instead of snappy verbs like mused, smiled, snorted, derided, etc. - news stories are supposed to move the readers along, not slow them down by throwing in words that wave a red flag.

While many churches have special ways of referring to their clergy, all of them must be treated fairly. If we gave special treatment to, say, Catholics, then Baptists would be upset. By treating everyone with an even hand, we can deliver the news without favoring any one religion.

On sections: We do not intentionally set out to confuse readers, but sometimes we do. Here's a recent example:

"When I saw your [Sunday] AA section had 'O' pages, I figured oh well, 'O' is for Opinion, right? But today I find two 'D' sections: The Food section has the 'E' pages, not D pages. Maybe a little more software would solve this problem."

Actually this is a human problem. Every day copy editors pull up page templates for the sections in The Tribune. On these templates are areas where the date has to be changed and the section letter has to be changed. In theory, the sections are lettered in alphabetical order according to the order they will appear behind the "A" section.

At times, this system breaks down and a copy editor will have bad information on the section letter or will fail to change the section letter. And then the calls and e-mails come in from our sharp-eyed readers.

Where is it? While our staff strives to become as up-to-date as humanly and technologically possible, sometimes we fail to explain changes to readers:

"On the top right corner of the A section today it says 'Online Now, Planning Your Cinco De Mayo Celebration.' I have searched everywhere and can't find anything."

This "Online now" feature is fairly new to The Tribune, and this is what it means: Sometimes we will throw a certain article up on our Internet site before it appears in the paper. If you see the phrase "Online now," then go to http://www.sltrib .com and have a look.

Number of people curious about two "D" sections in Wednesday paper

62

Number of people asking, "Where's Boondocks?"

5

Number of people asking about circulation problems

13

Number of people upset about wrong solution in chess column

24

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The Reader Advocate's phone number is 801-257-8782. Write to the Reader Advocate, The Salt Lake Tribune, 90 S. 400 West, Suite 700, Salt Lake City, Utah 84101. reader.advocate@sltrib .com