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When the (lowercase) 'i' has it

A look at how the Web is changing the language of journalism – or not.

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Once upon a time, many years ago, before there was a World Wide Web, a colleague reminded me about how a newspaper needs to be as many things to as many people as possible, even if it can't be all things to all people. Editors need to remember that sometimes people will buy a newspaper for just a single piece of information.

"Sometimes," I remember him saying, "you pick up a paper at the newsstand to check the price of a single stock."

Now I think I can top the single stock-price check. A couple of Saturdays ago, I picked up The New York Times at the supermarket just to check on whether a single letter in the headline of a story was capitalized.

As I'd seen online at home, the Times had reported that Apple had "suffered extensive network gridlock Friday morning as many of the six million users of the original iPhone tried to upgrade to new software while the first buyers of the new iPhone 3G were trying to activate their purchases."

The headline for this article, as I saw it online, was quite straightforward: "iPhone Users Plagued by Software Problems." Note, though, that initial "i." It's lowercase, out of deference to Apple's style.

But wait a minute. It begins a sentence. Always begin a sentence with a capital letter: Isn't that just about the first rule of capitalization you ever learned, back in the day when it was a bit of a struggle just to hold one of those fat pencils in your little fingers?

Hmm, I thought. I wonder how they handled it in the print edition. Differently, I suspected.


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