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Why end with 30?

At the bottom of each entry in this site’s blog, I use </30> to designated the end of the it.

In my own way, it was a nod to the tradition of ending newspaper stories (and occasionally broadcast and magazine pieces) with - 30 -.

While no one’s sure why 30 was used as an end sign, there is no shortage of ideas.

The Writer’s Market Web site offers a number of plausible explanations, with 30 coming from, alternatively:

Pat Heilman, from Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s Journalism department, expands on the last point. She suggests it was used during the hot-lead era at the end of a story as “the cue for the typesetter to insert a 30-point slugline as spacing between end of one story and beginning of next headline on a newspaper page.”

But, according to the Writer’s Market, the “most popular” tale is 30 originated during the U.S. Civil War:

…when news was transmitted by telegraph. The first message sent to a press association in the U.S. contained thirty words, and so its sender, as was the practice, indicated this with the number 30 at the end. The 30 was retained for all telegraphed news, and eventually, for news stories in general.

Prior to reading that version, I’d never heard of the Civil War origin, although I had heard many variations citing the telegraph.

The most common account of 30’s creation I’ve encountered was first told to me by my journalism mentors: 30 was telegrapher’s shorthand for “End”. Chris Graves, of Dow Jones, recently confirmed to me 30 was part of that shorthand, the hundred-or-so year old “Phillips Code.” (That code was used by AP reporters when they, reportedly, sign-off their stories with 73 — was shorthand for “Best wishes.”)

I’ve since read AP reporters once signed-off their stories with 73—which was telegraphers’ shorthand for “Best wishes” — if true, it would lend more credence to 30’s origin as shorthand.

If you know of different version as to why 30 is used, please post them as a comment.

You may also want to see the responses received by the CARR-L mailing list to a desperate plea for 30’s origin.