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Festival of Journalism; more on Oxford comma

Readers can get inside huge San Diego County stories, and learn more about the pressures and dangers — sometimes death — confronting journalists, during an event Saturday. The Festival of Journalism will be held from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Oct. 15 the Tula Community Center at SDSU.

Admission is free. Register at festivalofjournalism.com

The gathering is sponsored by the Union-Tribune, SDSU School of Journalism & Media Studies, KPBS and Voice of San Diego.

The event will feature eight panel discussions that will include reporters, editors, news directors and publishers: The $100M Problem On Ash Street; Dying Behind Bars: Scandal In San Diego’s Jails; Hate, White Supremacy And Both Sidesism; Pursuing The Truth In An Age Of Propaganda; The Importance of Community Journalism; The Future Of Print; Democracy At Risk: The Murders Of Mexican Journalists; An Accusation Of Gang Rape: A Football Team And 10 Months Of Silence.

U-T Studio Productions will also screen a documentary, Journalism At Risk, on journalists who work in Tijuana, where crimes against the press have regularly occurred.

Three speakers will make keynote addresses: Steve Sebelius, politics and government editor at the Las Vegas Review-Journal, will speak on journalism in a time of violent rhetoric and the death of reporter Jeff German, who was stabbed to death outside his Las Vegas home Sept. 4. Ex-Clark County Public Administrator Robert Telles, whom German wrote about, is charged with murder. Los Angeles Times staff photographer and Pulitzer Prize winner Marcus Yam, who covered the collapse of Afghanistan to the Taliban, also will speak. The final address will be delivered by Justin Brooks, director and co-founder of the California Innocence Project.

Oxford comma vs. Associated Press style

What do readers prefer: The Oxford comma that appears before “and” in series or Associated Press style, which the Union-Tribune uses, that says you can generally delete the comma before “and” in a series?

Overwhelmingly, by far — the Oxford comma. In answer to a query I asked last week, I received 32 emails; two supported AP style (the Oxford comma seems redundant, one reader wrote).

The subject of the Oxford comma vs. AP style came up after reader Dan Worrells of Lake San Marcos emailed the Readers’ Rep about the U-T not using the Oxford comma.

Here’s the issue: Should you type in a comma before “and” in a series — “Firefighters battled flames with air drops, a bulldozer, and hand crews.” Or should you use AP style and drop the comma — “… air drops, a bulldozer and hand crews.”

AP advises to not use a comma — unless a sentence is otherwise confusing without it.

The main reasons readers gave for using the Oxford comma before “and” were ease, clarity, consistency, no interpretation, and why not use it when the alternative might be confusion.

Doreen Daily from Chula Vista: “In a junior high school English class (1950) our teacher was teaching us to use the Oxford comma. He gave us an example: A wife sent a note with her husband to buy some items after work. She asked for milk, bread, eggs, frozen peas and carrots. When he came home he had one bag of frozen peas and carrots. She said, ‘I wanted a bag of peas and a bag of carrots.’ He said, ‘If you had used the Oxford comma I would have known what you meant.’”

David Morrison from Del Cerro: “Always use the Oxford comma. It eliminates ambiguity. The writer and editor don’t need to examine each usage to determine whether it is needed or not. What’s the downside? An extra keystroke? Phooey.”

B. Chris Brewster from P.B.: “I edit American Lifeguard Magazine, which goes out to beach lifeguards nationwide. I’ve concluded that it is more consistent and less likely to confuse to use the Oxford comma in all instances.”

And from U-T columnist Richard Lederer: “I unstintingly use it in my Lederer on Language column not only to avoid ambiguity, but to reflect the cadence of the human voice, which is why punctuation was invented. We don’t say, ‘The American flag is red, whiteandblue.’ We say, ‘The American flag is red, white, and blue.’”

It’s been almost 40 years since I bought my first AP Stylebook, so it would be difficult to break the habit of not using a comma before “and.” Also, the U-T follows AP style on the comma. But I admit, I was swayed by all the responses, many of which came from teachers and journalists. There was something else that struck me too, which reader Doug Weber from Carlsbad captured in his email: “Isn’t it nice to disagree about something less consequential and vitriolic than so many of today’s debates?”

Now that we can agree on.