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Battle of the Stylebooks: AP vs NY Times

APStyle Tweeting About Tweets

In a rare instance of the Associated Press Stylebook directly responding to a publication, the AP sent the above tweet a few hours after a story broke (via The Awl) that the New York Times would no longer allow its journalists to use the word "tweet."

Word came yesterday via The Awl that the New York Times Standards Editor, Phil Corbett, banned writers at the Gray Lady from using the word “tweet” in articles for the paper, except when for “special effect.”

In a memo to staff, Corbett insisted that most people probably do not understand what a tweet is and furthermore, that the word itself is inherently silly. He suggests that instead of using “tweet,” reporters should opt to say “sent a message on Twitter” or “wrote on Twitter.” These alternatives, of course, beg the larger question of whether a reader wholly unfamiliar with the word “tweet” will be any better able to contextualize a phrase containing the word “Twitter” (Would a reader confused by the headline “Conan O’Brien to Fans: Tweet this” be more likely to read an article entitled “Conan O’Brien to Fans: Send this in a Twitter Message”? Probably not, and the latter sounds ridiculous to anyone interested in the topic in the first place.)

This comes little over a week after the AP Stylebook added 42 new social media guidelines for journalists. Among them: it’s website, not web site, and words like “fan,” “friend,” and “follow” are permitted in both the noun and verb forms.

The new AP Stylebook social media guidelines mark an appreciation of the importance of a new generation of news consumers. More importantly, the AP have made themselves an example of how industry giants can adapt in order to continue to be relevant in a changing landscape of media consumption and online interaction.

As of April 2010, there were over 100 million registered Twitter users. These users are likely among the highest consumers of media and the demographic that the New York Times would be wise to target should it wish to survive past 2050. But instead of embracing a new generation of social media savvy readers, The New York Times has continued to tailor itself to the interests of an aging demographic. It’s true that this is the demographic buying subscriptions right now, but if the Times cannot attract young readers soon, it faces extinction in the near future.

The New York Times’ ban of the word “tweet” serves no purpose beyond deliberately rejecting social media as little more than a passing fad.  Furthermore, it flouts journalistic convention of never using two words where one would suffice. The move is yet another example of the type of shortsightedness that has rendered old media increasingly obsolete. The New York Times can publish articles about social media trends all it wants, but its rejection of useful and commonly accepted terms reveals a backwards approach to new media, marks a stubborn refusal to embrace an evolving market, and alienates a powerful consumer demographic.

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