By Scott Leadingham | June 10th, 2010
I’m convinced that the journalism industry is one of the most cannibalistic professions. Sometimes for better (e.g. weeding out the Jayson Blairs of the world). Sometimes for worse (e.g. technoratti who practically cheer the death of the printed word). Sometimes for the fact that its practitioners are its most stalwart critics.
I don’t know in what category (if any) today’s chatter about The New York Times standards editor Phil Corbett’s pronouncement about the use of “tweet” falls, but there’s no shortage of cannibalistic tendencies taking place from within. Just check out some of the comments from this post on The Awl.
Yes, it’s true, ladies and gentlemen, The Gray Lady is putting the smackdown on Twitter slang, at least in most instances. In fairness, there isn’t an outright ban on “tweet,” though Michael McElroy in the Times’ public editor office wrote me in an e-mail that “it’s pretty close.” (Note that the public editor’s office doesn’t speak for the Times, but rather is an advocate for, well, the public.)
Reactions range from the snide (“rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic”) to the laudatory (“Thank you Phil Corbett. Can you imagine if you looked up a NYT article from 1974 and it was filled with CB radio slang?”).
Since we at SPJ are always interested in what journalists think about this thing we call “our livelihoods,” we put it out to the Twitterverse (a word I’ve just deemed acceptable in all SPJ Works blog posts):
And, of course, the responses varied:
For what it’s worth, the AP Stylebook is of at least minimal guidance. The new social media guidelines say this about Twitter:
“Twitter A message-distribution system that allows users to post continual updates of up to 140 characters detailing their activities for followers or providing links to other content. The verb is to tweet, tweeted. A Twitter message is known as a tweet.”
I’m not entirely sure if that means it’s acceptable to use “tweet” in AP style, or just that it’s been defined by the updated Stylebook. But, of course, The New York Times is free to use whatever style and guidelines it wants. In fact, it (and many outlets) diverts from AP style in notable instances, such as by using “Mr.” or “Mrs.” before surnames after a first reference.
And that brings me to the point of this: Does it really matter if the Times chooses to use “tweet” to describe a message or status update on Twitter? After all, don’t journalists and outlets pride themselves on their individualism, uniqueness and “local voice”?
Chew on that … cannibals.
Scott Leadingham is editor of SPJ’s Quill magazine. He’s a vegetarian. Twitter: @scottleadingham