Disclaimer: Views stated in this post are reflective of the author and not indicative of McDougall Communications.
Look through my desk and you will find two guidebooks that I refer to frequently. The first is the 2015 edition of the Associated Press Stylebook—a dense, all-encompassing guide to writing, designed by and for journalists. The second is a slender, yet vital, resource: The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White. Ask any PR professional about these books and chances are they have a copy of one or both on hand. And for good reason, too.
Whether I’m writing a press release or a blog post, I use these books not as crutches, but as necessary tools to make me a better writer. Both are filled with seemingly endless knowledge, helpful rules and tips to strengthen our prose and storytelling abilities. But the rules of each book don’t always align, most glaringly when it comes to one of the most controversial topics in the English language: The Oxford comma.
For those of you who skipped your punctuation lessons, the Oxford comma (also known as the serial comma) is the comma used before the conjunction in a series of three or more terms. For example:
The American flag is red, white, and blue.
I’m influenced by my parents, Kurt Vonnegut, and David Bowie.
“What’s the big deal? It’s only a comma,” say the unbelievers. That in itself is the essence of the anti-Oxford comma movement—that it’s an unnecessary, grammatical technicality introduced by literary elitists looking to distance themselves from the peasantry. The AP Stylebook supports its removal, instructing writers to “Use commas to separate elements in a series, but do not put a comma before the conjunction in a simple series.”
So, by removing the punctuation, the examples I shared earlier look like this:
The American flag is red, white and blue.
I’m influenced by my parents, Kurt Vonnegut and David Bowie.
The American flag is now red and baby blue, and my parents are Vonnegut and Bowie. As cool as it would be to have these icons as parents, it’s not true, and it makes the sentence misleading. The subtle change in grammar makes all the difference.
And that’s one of the reasons why defenders of the Oxford comma such as myself turn to The Elements of Style for guidance on the issue. Clarity is generally the main reason for its usage, but rhythm plays an equally important role. When describing the American flag, it sounds much better having a steady cadence when listing off the colors. “The flag is red, white, and blue” gives a necessary inflection after each color is named, as opposed to when the Oxford comma is omitted. It may only be aesthetics, but if beauty is removed from the writing, then why bother writing at all?
Not everyone here at McDougall Communications is as passionate about the Oxford comma as I am, but we all agree that its clarity justifies its existence. And at the end of the day, different clients will have different brand standards that dictate whether it should be used or not. We will always choose the best fit for our clients and refrain from pushing our personal preferences upon them.
Which is probably for the best, since I prefer to use the Oxford comma as opposed to the medieval barbarism that thrives in its absence.
By Nick Guadagnino
I spent a number of years in traditional corporate communications roles, including four years working remotely from my home office. While I travelled to the headquarters office at least a few days every month, I spent the rest of my time working at home.
I got used to both the challenges and the flexibility of my situation. So, when I came across an in-depth article in the Journal News with a headline about IBM and other tech companies bringing some of their remote workers back into the offices, I was intrigued.
The article provides a great perspective not only on telecommuting, but on the nature of today’s work environment. However, one of the more interesting facets of the article was the inclusion of supporting data on the number of people telecommuting.
For instance, based on the report, the total number of people spending half (or more) of their time working from home is roughly equal to 4 million people. For reference, that’s almost the population of the city Los Angeles. And while it only accounts for 3 percent of the workforce, that’s nonetheless a lot of people across the country working from home on any given day.
The article also gives a fairly detailed profile of the average telecommuter: 46 years or older, possessing at least a bachelor’s degree. I was surprised at the age group, which I expected to be younger. Much younger. Like, a decade younger. Turns out, it’s not just the younger generation doing all of the working from home or from the coffee shop. Gen X and some Baby Boomers are also taking advantage of the new flexibility that companies are offering.
Today, I work in an office with five colleagues. I rarely spend a full day out of the office, but there are occasions when I work remotely – which can mean either working from a coffee shop in between meetings (or, having a meeting at a coffee shop), or working from home. For communications professionals like myself, and for the 4 million people across the U.S. spending time working from home, technology helps keep us connected. However, as the article points out, there are other factors that come into play when working remote that companies need to be aware of, such as the toll it can take on employee engagement, which can in turn impact productivity and profitability. As the needs of businesses change, the nature of how and where we work is likely to evolve again, too.
By Will Memmott
It’s no secret that the way people consume news and information is going through a major transformation. The collective shift away from TV as a main source for news has now entered the fast lane, and is rapidly accelerating. According to an August 2017 Pew Research Center study, the gap between television and online news consumption has significantly narrowed since just last year. In August 2016, there was still a healthy 19-point gap between TV and online news sources, with TV news holding a solid lead. This year, the gap narrowed to just 7 points, with online news steadily growing. Despite what some national radio conglomerates may tell you, radio growth is flat, and print is down to just 18 percent.
When you look at the demographics, the shift is even more pronounced. Online news is on the rise across all age categories. The biggest gains are in the 65+ age group, with a 10 percent jump in online sources, while TV news is declining— with a 10 percent drop in viewership among people aged 30–49.
At this pace, online news will soon overtake TV news as a main source for information. This comes as no surprise. We’ve seen news outlets completely change the way they present information, with increasing emphasis on digital and social media content. Organizations have learned that traditional news coverage is giving way to the Paid, Earned, Shared, and Owned (PESO) approach to digital marketing content. The sweet spot is strategically leveraging all of those elements to tell your own stories in order to generate maximum reach and ultimately, awareness. When that content gets shared and goes viral, the Digital Marketing Trifecta transcends the one off front-page or TV lead news story, spanning the globe in seconds.
So what does this mean for TV news? No doubt, more resources will continue to be devoted to online and social. How to monetize online platforms to make them as lucrative as TV news advertisements remains to be seen.
News outlets are not alone in the dilemma. NFL ratings have dropped 12 percent year over year on opening weekend, and were down 15 percent in week two of the season. If the trend continues, some industry analysts say the result could be a significant cut in network earnings. And Wall Street has already taken notice. Since the season opener, stock market shares have taken a hit for most of the major TV networks.
While many factors are playing into the overall TV viewership drop, one thing is certain. In the game of TV vs. online news consumption, online is on a path to become the undisputed champ.
By Charla Kucko