Public Editor

What’s in a name — is it ISIS or ISIL?

Iraqi security forces celebrated after clashes with followers of Shiite cleric Mahmoud al-Sarkhi in front of his home in the Shiite holy city of Karbala.
Iraqi security forces celebrated after clashes with followers of Shiite cleric Mahmoud al-Sarkhi in front of his home in the Shiite holy city of Karbala. The Associated Press

An emailer on June 26 pointed out an ongoing inconsistency in The Kansas City Star:

When covering the problems in Iraq all the news agencies I've watched or listened to, including spokespeople for the president and the State Dept refer to the jihadists as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. The Star, however, always uses the title Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Even guest columnist Trudy Rubin in today's Opinion uses the term ISIS. Why do McClatchy, some news blips from AP, and the Star use ISIL when even the government says ISIS?

Great question. The official policy of the newsroom is to follow the style rules of the Associated Press, except in any cases where local editors have ruled otherwise in The Star’s own copy style.

In this case, the slot editor (a role best defined as the ultimate copy editor) who works on the A section most frequently pointed me to the AP ruling, which is is to go with Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL. That’s what most — but not all — news stories have used since the insurgency emerged.

However, the Opinion department has largely been using ISIS, and most of those mentions have been in syndicated columns. While I can’t make any declarations with certainty, it seems to me that ISIS has gained more currency in broadcast media. I’d bet that’s at least partly because it’s quicker to say that acronym than the initials ISIL.

Editors at The Star can and often do edit material from outside sources. I’ve learned that readers expect consistency, so making sure everyone is on the same page on this matter would help avoid any confusion.

Scrabble Gram words

A reader last week expressed an annoyance that I’m sure others share, concerning the Scrabble Grams puzzle in the FYI section:

My frustration stems from checking the online Scrabble Dictionary for some words and being told they are not official Scrabble words, only to find out the next day, after I continued to labor on a solution, that the word was indeed a Scrabble Gram word, and I had wasted my semi-valuable time.

It turns out not all Scrabble dictionaries are created equal. The editor at Tribune Content Agency who oversees the puzzle pointed out that it says its words can be found in the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, 4th Edition. Although Hasbro Gaming offers a free Scrabble dictionary on its website, its word list differs from the book version, which rules.

No, not an “earth-shattering matter” as the reader wrote. But I know people take the puzzles seriously.

Advance ad?

The June 28 FYI section carried a rave Robert Trussell review of “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” at the New Theatre Restaurant. And in that same day’s A section, Bob Hallinan noticed a half-page ad for the show ran quotes from the same review:

Unless The Star has figured out some way to overcome the space-time continuum, this leads the average reader to conclude that the New Theatre’s marketing department was given an advance look at the review in order to come up with a big ad for the weekend.

This is a perfect illustration of today’s publishing cycle. The review had been posted on late morning the day before. That was plenty of time for New Theatre to see it and use quotes in the ad.

The Star’s Advertising department confirms: They didn’t have advance word.

To reach Derek Donovan, call 816-234-4487 weekday mornings or send email to