Editor’s Column: ‘Small’ is in the eye of the beholder

“I live in a small town. The population is just 10,000.”

It’s a conversation we kept overhearing while we were in Denver this month. Apparently the definition of “small” is quite subjective. For example, the television show “Twin Peaks” (which some of you remember from 20+ years ago, and some have just watched for the first time on Showtime) was originally set in a town with a population of 5,120. Executives at ABC didn’t think a show about such a small community would be popular, so they added a one to the number, making the population 51,201… basically the population of Grand Junction, which I don’t think any of us would classify as a “small town.”

I guess “small” is in the eye of the beholder.

Another perspective is that even folks who live in the city have their own neighborhoods, and interact with the same approximate number of people, so it still feels like a small town. Except for the traffic and the congestion.

For myself, I’d rather live in a tiny town of 2,500 where a morning stop for coffee involves hugs from friends and the barista knowing my regular order than a city where I’m just one of the masses in line at Starbucks and my name will always be spelled wrong on my cup.  We may be small in numbers, but we’re big in heart.

• • •

Some of you—only a few, I’m guessing—may notice minor stylistic changes in the paper, like not abbreviating state names or using the percent symbol instead of writing out the word. What’s up, you ask? We’re trying to adopt the latest round of changes from the Associated Press Stylebook, which provides guidelines for journalists and editors in the same way medical research writing refers to the AMA (American Medical Association) Style guide.

As language has to be somewhat fluid to adapt to modern inventions, the adoption of slang, and changing preferences, these style guides are updated periodically. Usually just about the time you get in the habit of doing something the “right” way.

When I first learned about AP Style, we were still using typewriters and putting two spaces after a period as we’d been taught in typing class. AP Style frowned on that double space, as well as the use of the Oxford comma (which is still a raging debate for grammar geeks). The reason, according to my journalism teacher, dates back to the old printing presses when printers tried to take out every nonessential letter and space for efficiency and economy, which makes sense when you realize every space and punctuation mark had to be placed by hand, and ink and paper were at a premium.

On a funny note, I happened to make a snide comment about the frequency of AP Stylebook changes to the fellow sitting next to me during the press convention, only to have him be introduced as the next speaker—an Associated Press staff member. Oops. Color me red. 

By Niki Turner