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The Curious Listener: Whose Style Is It Anyway? A Capital(ized) Question

Curious Listener 220 x 220
Katie Burk/NPR

Ever noticed that NPR has its own unique style when it comes to headlines on NPR.org? Our news staff tailor every headline you see on NPR.org to fit each story, but also to make sure it's concise, consistent and creative. Editorial matters aside, NPR.org headlines are also formatted for appearance.

As a few of our style-conscious listeners pointed out, NPR.org capitalizes each word in our online headlines, which isn't exactly by the book. Well, the AP Stylebook anyway. Several years ago, we created our own modified version of AP style for NPR.org.

To learn more about different treatments for display type as well as our editing and style standards, read the exchange below between NPR Listener Services and Matthew, a Curious Listener.

Please, please, please stop capitalizing every word in your headlines!

Even in U.S. public schools students are expected to stop making this mistake in the third grade. It is painful, offensive, and disturbing to see an organization such as NPR daily exhibiting capitalization skills below third grade level. Please stop it.

I can't bring myself to give money to an organization that persists in doing this, and I otherwise really want to give you money. You generally raise the level of public discourse, and I strongly support that and want to see much more of it, but putting the most basic capitalization errors, consistently, in your headlines is directly counter to that.

Matthew

San Francisco, CA



Dear Matthew,

Thank you for contacting NPR. We appreciate you taking the time to share your concerns.

We changed the formatting for headlines at NPR.org several years ago. The "up" style for headlines and subheads is one of several standard, acceptable approaches to capitalization treatment for what's known as display type. It's not an uncommon style, although it is true that some other display type styles may be more prevalent or established in use.

We welcome both criticism and praise, and your thoughts will be taken into consideration.

Thank you for listening to NPR, and for your continued support of public broadcasting. For the latest news and information, visit NPR.org.

Sincerely,

Justin

NPR Audience Partnership
202-513-3232
www.npr.org


Matthew's response:

I had looked for any widely-accepted style guide that describes capitalizing all initials in titles as acceptable at all and found none. Not to challenge your assertion, but so I can refer to it myself in order to check for consistent form when proofreading or editing copy, could you cite any accepted style guide that allows this form?

Thank you.



Dear Matthew,

Thank you again for contacting NPR.

NPR uses a modified version of AP style. Most major news organizations have their own internal style guidelines that supersede any published stylebooks. The New York Times generally capitalizes every word in a headline except for prepositions, articles, and some conjunctions. However, it's not as simple as that and there are quite a few exceptions to what it will or won't capitalize. On the other hand, the Los Angeles Times capitalizes only the first word in any headline, and then any names, proper nouns, etc., that follow. The important thing to understand is that there is no hard and fast rule for proper headline display type, and there is no consensus. It can be best understood as a design decision.

Sincerely,

Justin
NPR Audience Partnership
202-513-3232
www.npr.org


Matthew's response:

Thank you again for the prompt, thoughtful, and useful reply; it will help preserve my sanity when I see initial-capped titles. For the record, I hope that NPR will reconsider this choice from time to time, most importantly because to some, it looks anything but considered and gives the appearance of the lack of such a conscious decision. To many, it's missing the all-important "I meant to do that" quality.

Aside from this one point of annoyance, thank you greatly for all the good work. We desperately need your service.


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About the Author

George T. Gary III is an associate with NPR's Corporate Communications team.

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