If you pay close attention, you may notice a shift in style we’ve implemented as of this issue. Or the change may be so obvious that it screams out at you. Or maybe it’s so subtle and unmeaningful that you won’t even see it. I honestly have no idea, so I’ll be fascinated to hear about your reaction.
The decision was made one day in late April around a table in our Earth conference room. We had three ardent advocates—editors Will Bourne, Jerry Goodbody, and Alisa Opar—on hand to represent the magazine’s longstanding position on the issue. Attending from our D.C. office via videoconference to argue for the other side was Chief Scientist Gary Langham, with support in the room provided by pragmatic messaging savant and avid birder David Ringer. Integrated Marketing Director Lynne Hoppe played semi-honest broker, and network content editor Martha Harbison chimed in as the voice of outraged integrity. Elaine O’Sullivan, our educational publishing director, represented schoolchildren and teachers. I was there to adjudicate. Yes, that’s nine staff members gathered to debate and decide about the essential issue of—wait for it—whether or not we should capitalize the names of bird species in the magazine and in the rest of our National Audubon Society publishing channels.
Yeah, I know—the correct answer is so obvious, right?
The reason this decision had to be made is because we will be merging our magazine and organizational websites this fall. Our plan is to serve up the unparalleled journalism and writing of Audubon alongside news, stories, and information about Audubon and how we’re working to protect birds and habitats, rather than keeping the two types of content in separate silos as if at least one of them carries some horrible disease. The magazine and its current website follow the widely accepted rules of English grammar, rendering bird names in lowercase. All our other communications hew to the conventions of the American Ornithologists’ Union: title case all the way. Now was the time to define a single Audubon style.
I have to be honest: I approached the whole thing as something of a lark. But I quickly realized that everyone else was dead serious. The passionate lowercasers were agog that anyone could argue against standard English usage. The passionate Capitalizers made appeals grounded in the rectitude of the bird-science authorities. Things got heated. Snide remarks were made. Ultimately, I found myself swayed by a simple argument around the observation that an abundance of bird species names include common descriptive adjectives. There are, after all, any number of birds that can be described as a yellow warbler, but a Yellow Warbler is a particular taxonomic species. Capitalizing clears up confusion. (For more on the nuanced history of this issue, go to http://bit.ly/RFOObw.)
And so I ruled: The species shall be capitalized. Maybe you agree; maybe you don’t. Either way, I hope you’ll let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.