Friday, May 11, 2007

KO the acronyms, OK?

Dale Earnhardt, Jr., is leaving DEI.

No, not Directed Electronics Inc., which is the largest supplier of home theater loudspeakers and remote auto start systems.

And not Design Engineering Inc., the self-proclaimed “proud supporter” of several auto-racing teams.

NASCAR fans are shaking their heads, knowing Earnhardt is leaving his father’s auto racing team, aptly named ‘Dale Earnhardt Inc.’ after Dale’s dad who died in a car crash at Daytona about six years ago. Dale Jr. has worked to extend his father’s auto-racing legacy, but, apparently, he does not get along so well with his mother-in-law, Teresa, whom he blames for the team’s woes the past several years. I’ll leave the deeper analysis to the experts who cover auto racing.

I’m more interested in why we love acronyms. ‘DEI’ was tossed around by broadcasters and analysts on ESPN’s SportsCenter and Pardon the Interruption (that’s ‘PTI’ to my street sports homeys) last night as easily as if they were saying ‘NFL’ or ‘NBA.’

Our job as journalists is to communicate – to all, not just insiders. Acronyms are certainly easier to say and take up less room on a page, but they often confuse readers. If you use an acronym, spell it out in first reference, something most broadcasters on ESPN did. Unlike in print, though, a first reference on television is gone the moment the air is expended to say ‘Dale Earnhardt Incorporated,’ meaning viewers who tune in even a few seconds later may be confused by the ensuing references to ‘DEI.’ (Thinking, perhaps, that Dale Earnhardt has left ‘dei’, or God!)

So, as a rule, spell out all acronyms, even the ones the AP Stylebook approves like ‘FBI.’ You’ll probably get some testy style debates in the newsroom, but at least more readers will understand what you are writing. Every day, someone new starts reading the sports pages. Write for those newer readers and kids as well.

If not, a reader might think you mean NASDAQ (National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations system) when you state NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing). And who the heck knows what they’ll think when you start popping the pill with the old horsehide until someone laces a dong.



Chet Piotrowski Jr. said...


I don't mind the acronyms per se for NASCAR, but dammit if I hear one more SportsCenter host call Boston's Japanese pitcher(or for that matter written in USAToday) Dice-K, I'm going to pull out the remaining tufts of hair on my balding palate. Dice-K, A-Rod, blah, blah blah. Whatever happened to getting your butt out on the street and doing so good kick butt, dirt-digging, in-depth stories?

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