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Yesterday The Boston Globe ended all your tomorrows

In adjusting its style guide to use calendar days instead of “yesterday,” “today,” or “tomorrow,” the Globe is trying to adapt to the pace of online news.

The Boston Globe has killed yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

In an announcement on BostonGlobe.com’s Insiders blog, Charles Mansbach, the Globe’s Page 1 editor, says the paper is doing away with the convention of using those terms in stories. Instead they’ll start using the day on the week. So instead of seeing a Thursday story noting the Red Sox start a series with the Orioles “tomorrow,” it’ll say the series starts “Friday.” This shouldn’t be surprising, but it is a break — and an official one — with decades of practice at many newspapers.

The reason? Times (pun intended) have changed. Mansbach explains:

The reason for the change is that articles are no longer written only for the newspaper. Breaking news is posted immediately on the Globe’s websites; stories are then fleshed out, posted again, then put into the process for the next day’s paper and the next day’s web entries. With all that traffic, a reliance on “yesterday, “today,” and “tomorrow” is an invitation for error.

The Globe’s decision is part of an ongoing discussion inside and outside newsrooms about how to adjust phrasing in news to meet the needs of an evolved news cycle. Like the Globe, a number of papers have changed house style to only use the days of the week, while others use different terminology online and in print.

There is one exception to the new rule: print headlines. “Today” remains the basic unit of news urgency, especially online. “Today” is the equivalent of “now,” as in “you should be reading this because it’s happening within the context of your day.” Mansbach said the we should expect to still see things like “Crucial vote on debt limit today.” As he puts it: “We suspect that “Crucial vote on debt limit Wednesday” would not rivet anyone’s attention.”

[Editor's note: This story originally included this line: "Yesterday and tomorrow are almost meaningless in an era when someone could discover an article through search or social two weeks or eight months after its first published." While that's true, as Noam Cohen points out in the comments, we shouldn't have said it was the reason for the Globe's change. As the Mansbach quote above states, the key issue is that stories are often published on the web and in print on different days — not that an online story can have a theoretically infinite lifespan. Sorry.]

                                   
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Ann Marie Lipinski    July 24, 2014
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  • http://twitter.com/jeffehobbs Jeff Hobbs

    This is a fantastic idea. Nice work, Boston Globe.

  • http://twitter.com/TweetLaterNet TweetLater

    Very simple change but makes complete sense! Along with the BostonGlobe.com’s new responsive design, they are making some great decisions that need to be made.

  • http://byjoeybaker.com/ Joey Baker

    Not to be too much of a curmudgeon but this feels like a pretty weird, half-measure. What would be useful: a script that automatically converts the words “today”, “tomorrow”, “yesterday”, “last week”, et al to an appropriate string depending on the current date.

    Simply removing words from the vocabulary feels … incorrect.

  • Noam S Cohen

    Although it may be a good idea to change the way days/dates are reported, as you suggest, because of the changes wrought by Web search, that is not what has happened here. The Globe editor did not say that they were making this change because “someone could discover an article through search or social two weeks or eight months after it’s first published.” If that was the aim, they would have replaced ‘yesterday,’ ‘today’ and tomorrow with actual dates, not days of the week.

    The aim here is much more specific to the way that news is reported at a newspaper that has both a news website and a print edition, i.e. the fact that the same story is both reported right away (“today”) and then placed in the print newspaper for the following day (“yesterday”). In
    this case, the change makes abundant sense. But it is a change made to prevent writers and editors from inadvertently misreporting the day on which something happened, not a change made to assist readers who find the story later.

    Readers who find stories via Web searches and are confused by references to “yesterday” would be well advised to look at the date on a given story and subtract one day. Writers who report on journalism would be well advised to pay attention to what actually happens at newspapers, rather than what they have projected might be happening.

  • http://www.niemanlab.org/ Joshua Benton

    You’re right, Noam. Thanks for the catch.

  • Asjhjdf

    If this is the only thing the Globe has changed… god help them, tomorrow.

  • Dave Bender

    This problem has bugged me for a while (since well before yesterday, whenever that was). But I think technology can solve this problem, as Joey Baker in another post suggests.
    If a microformat for time were established, the word ‘today’ (or whatever the publisher’s style dictates) can be tagged with the date of the event or the fact referenced. Then, when the time comes to display or print the story, the publishing system can be refined to recognize that microformat and display the correct word(s).
    There likely already is such a format.  Or twenty. If anybody is familiar with them, please point it out.
    An issue to deal with is the fading resolution of time.  If a big fire or other event happens at 4 p.m. today, our post at 6 p.m. might want to  go to that precision.  Tomorrow, we may want the resolution may fade to just the day — ‘yesterday’ or ‘Tuesday’ — at least on first reference.  And by next month, it might want to say ‘last month’ on first reference and the date on second reference.  The challenge is to keep the text conversational not computational.

  • Ben Sturtevant

    That used to drive me crazy when I worked there and then went to another paper where they used day of the week. Glad they’ve joined the 21st century.

  • Martin Langeveld

    You might ask what took so long. The Globe’s big sister, The New York Times has been doing this for quite some time (at least since late 2010 judging by archive search).But, really, is there any difference between saying “yesterday” and “Thursday”? Or is it really an improvement? For current readers, they will now have to do a mental translation (“Today is Friday, so Thursday means yesterday.”) For future readers, they will also have to do more work to understand the relative timing (“This was published on a Friday, so Thursday is the previous day.”) A good many online-only news sites (especially financial ones, it seems) retain “yesterday,” “today” and “tomorrow.”  It’s not as if they have lost their meaning.

  • http://jonathanstray.com Jonathan Stray

    This day-of-week style has been common in international wire reports for some time, owing to the difficulties of parsing “yesterday” across the international date line. I believe (but am not entirely sure, so caveat emptor) that this has long been standard style at Dow Jones financial newswire.

  • Christoph Trappe

    Makes sense. At United Way in Cedar Rapis, Iowa, where we practice brand journalism we take it a step further even and use dates.

    Or when we can help it we try to write things without a time element.

    More on that here: http://unitedwayofeastcentraliowa.org/marketing-blog-writing-relevant-non-timely-things/

  • HooBee DooBee

    AP Style has been doing this for several years. e.g.: “tomorrow Use only in direct quotations
    and in phrases that do not refer to a specific day: The
    world of tomorrow will need additional energy resources. Use the day of the week in other cases.”
    The entries for today and yesterday are similar