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COLUMN: A piece of newspaper history

Principles of good writing are the same today as in the past
At left is the CP Style Book from 1957. At right is the 19th edition of the Canadian Press Stylebook from 2021. Canadian Press style is used by most English-language newspapers and media outlets in Canada. While details have changed, the principles in these books have remained consistent. (John Arendt - Summerland Review)

The other day, a friend stopped by the Summerland Review office to talk about newspapers and reporting.

Years ago, he had worked as a reporter and sports writer for the Quesnel Cariboo Observer, one of our Black Press community papers.

While he no longer works in journalism, he has a love of good writing.

He handed me a thin blue book, the CP Style Book from 1957. This was the Canadian Press guide to newspaper style and protocol he used when he started working as a reporter.

“Have a look at what’s changed,” he said as he handed me the book.

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Most English-language newspapers in Canada follow the current Canadian Press style. It is the definitive guide to grammar and writing style, and it includes detailed instructions on commas, hyphens, quotation marks, the proper use of “which” or “that” in a sentence, preferred spellings of certain words and many other details involved in writing well.

The 1957 version is the fourth edition of this guide. It was first published in 1940 and was expanded and revised in 1947, 1954 and then 1957. The fifth edition was published in 1966.

Today the title of the guide has changed and it is now the Canadian Press Stylebook. The 19th edition, published in October 2021, is the most recent version of this guide.

While the 1957 guide was 94 pages, the 2021 version weighs in at 488 pages, not including the index. The 2021 version also covers topics including writing about the Internet, writing for online publications and covering some sensitive topics in the news today. The guide is available in paperback and digital formats.

The guide has been updated many times because our world and the English language are both changing.

The events of today are not the same as the events more than 65 years ago. The language has also evolved over the years.

That evening, as I sat down to read the 1957 guide, I noticed some of the changes. However, what stood out more was how much has remained the same since this guide was published.

The basic principles of good reporting and good writing are still at the heart of journalism.

Factual accuracy, fairness and clear writing were fundamentals of good reporting and news writing in the 1950s and before. The same care is essential today.

The 1957 guide addresses topics including how to write about race, ethnicity and gender. There are statements about avoiding racial slurs and avoiding mention of one’s race or ethnicity unless it was relevant to the story.

The guide also has information on covering business, labour, sports and crime, as well as dealing with legal matters.

Throughout this book, there is an emphasis on being fair and accurate.

The 2021 edition goes into a lot of detail on all these topics, but the principles remain the same.

Words matter. The editors of the 1957 CP Style Book, the 2021 Canadian Press Stylebook and the other versions of this guide have understood the power of language and the responsibility to use words with care.

The same principle is emphasised in journalism schools and in newsrooms across the country.

And in the years to come, as the style guide is revised and adapted to address future changes to our language and in our world, the same emphasis will remain.

John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.

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John Arendt

About the Author: John Arendt

John Arendt has worked as a journalist for more than 30 years. He has a Bachelor of Applied Arts in Journalism degree from Ryerson Polytechnical Institute.
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