Stop the presses! It’s Tea Party, not tea party!


By Jim Davis

At least in the Daily Herald, where we made the decision to depart from The Associated Press’ “style,” which basically decrees everything from when to upper- and lowercase words, how to report crime, and that we say “$3 million” instead of “three million dollars.”

The reason for this seemingly minor detail is important: It’s one of perception, which often is just as important as the reality.

It dawned on me when I was editing today’s Page 1 centerpiece story that compared the fledgling Occupy movement, just making its way into the suburbs in recent weeks, with the now well-established tea party movement.

See what I mean? Why should it be Occupy, uppercased, but tea party, lowercased? I don’t know the genesis of the thinking, but it just didn’t seem right. And one thing we assiduously try to avoid around here is creating the impression that we favor one side over the other in politically charged debates or issues — especially in news stories. Uppercasing one group while lowercasing the other surely could be seen as an attempt to sway readers.

And the last thing we need to do is reinforce a notion many have of the news media as catering to the left wing.

While both groups have a distinct anti-political, anti-establishment flavor, there’s little doubt the Tea Party has a conservative bent and is more likely to be endorsed by Republicans, while the Occupy movement comes from the other side of the political spectrum.

Referencing the Occupy group and the tea party that way in the same sentence just seemed like a bad idea. Unfair, really. So I ran this by our editorial board, and some lively discussion ensued. Suffice it to say, though, the idea of making both movements equal — stylewise, of course — appealed to just about everyone, even though abandoning AP style is not something we do every day.

The most telling argument came from Editor John Lampinen, who chimed in with, “I think we need to find a way to be consistent unless there is a compelling explanation for the inconsistency.”

Of course, this little debate about whether to upper- or lowercase words is minuscule in the grand scheme of things. But it is important that we get the details right in a debate that has ignited so much passion. As just a small example of that passion, take a look at the letters from a Tea Partyer and an Occupyer (Occupyer. Is that correct? Convene the style committee!) we’re running on this page.

There’s another important detail about today’s story by staff writers Robert Sanchez and Marie Wilson: We’ve told it from the suburban perspective.

Of course, the Occupy Wall Street movement started in New York, spread to Chicago and is threatening to spiral out of control in Oakland, Calif. But have you witnessed any of that firsthand? Maybe you saw the protesters in Aurora, Elgin or Naperville, though. The people we talked to for today’s story are your neighbors.

And the Tea Party in many ways had its roots in the suburbs. The early protests — and the movement’s initially meager numbers — occurred in such places as Elk Grove Village.

Another angle explored by Sanchez and Wilson: The Occupy movement is so new, there’s little scientific research on who makes up the group, or specifically what its mission is. But a professor from Benedictine University in Lisle plans to spend some time studying the Occupy Chicago people.

We’ll keep you posted on how that goes too.

• Jim Davis,, is DuPage Editor.

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