Group names on second reference

One question frequently asked by my interns and trainees is how to refer to organizations ‘for short’ once their full names have been established (“on second reference,” in Associated Press parlance). Given the nature of the news we handle — gay-related — a lot of organization names come up, with varying degrees of familiarity to our audience and to a general audience.

There’s often a temptation to use a group’s initials on second reference: The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force would, for example, become “NGLTF” once its full name is established. But I think this is generally bad practice in broadcast writing unless and only unless the initials are already familiar to your listeners. So, for instance, I think it’s okay to call the National Association for the Advance of Colored People the “N-double-A-C-P” (note how ‘double’ is spelled out here) on second reference. In fact, the initials are so familiar you could probably get away with “N-double-A-C-P” on first reference. Likewise, the United Nations can be called the “UN” even on first reference. And for our audience, the letters “HRC” are synonymous with the Human Rights Campaign (less so than with Hillary Rodham Clinton), so we always refer to them by their initials on second reference.

But usually the best practice is to refer to a less-familiar group by the part of its name that denotes it as a group. The National Association of Hispanic Journalists would be “the association” on second ref. In my earlier example, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is called “the Task Force” after the first reference.

There are, of course, many exceptions to this rule of thumb. Unfortunately for us, there are many groups in the gay community whose names don’t include that group-denoting word: Empire State Pride Agenda, Basic Rights Oregon, National Stonewall Democrats, Gay Men’s Health Crisis, and Lambda Legal, to name a few. The answer in these cases is a mixed bag. For the first two, we generally use the groups’ full names on each and every reference — a particular pain in the case of the long-named Empire State Pride Agenda. National Stonewall Democrats is called just “Stonewall Democrats” on second reference. Gay Men’s Health Crisis is called “GMHC” on second reference; its initials are familiar enough to our audience. And Lambda Legal is known by its nickname for short: “Lambda.”

There are also cases where the name makes a tidy acronym (initials which can be pronounced as a word — only!) In these cases, it’s okay to use that acronym on second reference (as long as it’s not too much of a puzzler). So, for example, both the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders are referred to as “GLAD” (or “GLAAD,” pronounced the same) on second reference.

To sum up: For unfamiliar group names, use the group-denoting part of the name on second reference. For familiar names, it’s more of a mixed bag. Use whatever nickname is most familiar to your audience, or at least the nickname the group uses for itself.

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