Phil Corbett, the Standards Editor of the New York Times, has acknowledged in his After Deadline blog the attention his criticism of Times staffers’ use of the word tweet has received. (I blogged about it over the weekend, and he linked to my recent post as an example of the negative response.)
Interestingly, Corbett doesn’t really address the substance of the negative response, just repeats his memo to the staff (apparently that was a preview of his blog post) and his insistence that he didn’t “ban” the word.
I noted in my earlier post his denial that his disapproval amounted to a “ban” (though I noted that “informal denunciation” was a dictionary definition of ban, and he certainly denounced use of the word). But the whole denial that it’s a ban is silly (and we know Corbett is anti-silly because that’s part of his criticism of tweet). Calling it a “ban” was a headline oversimplification and every newspaper or website, including the Times, oversimplifies in headlines. That’s what a headline does. For details, you read the story and see that he says it’s may be OK to use the word occasionally “for special effect.” But it’s easier to deny that the word has been banned than to address the substance of criticism.
I will address a side issue Corbett did raise:
One interesting note: Of the dozens of blogs and Web sites worldwide that weighed in, exactly two actually contacted me directly to ask about the issue.
Another interesting note: Try to find Phil Corbett’s email address anywhere on his blog (or on the Times web site). The “contact us” link says to click on a reporter’s byline to get the email link, but I clicked on Corbett’s and got his blog directory. If I were reporting someone else’s criticism of him, I would need to get some comment from him and would have taken the time to call him. Or I might have commented on his blog, asking him to contact me. But commentary doesn’t need a response. Times columns routinely run the writer’s opinion without response from other parties. I did, however, run Corbett’s response to Yahoo! News. I also sent Twitter direct messages to Jennifer Preston, the Times social media editor, and Patrick LaForge, the editor in charge of the Times copy desks. They both responded in comments on my original blog post, which I commend to your attention. So in my case, at least, the Times viewpoint was amply represented, even though I didn’t jump through the hoops necessary to contact Corbett directly so he could repeat what he had said to Yahoo!
I also should add that I recognize that the attention given to this Corbett memo by me and others might be out of proportion to its intent or impact in the Times newsroom. Apparently the Standards Editor’s job is to opine about standards that are unevenly enforced or even ignored by other people. This call to shun tweet was just part of that stream of opinions, noting that the newsroom’s existing resistance to the word was getting lax. Corbett linked to an earlier post, lumping Tweet (he capitalized it, calling it a trademarked word, though that is in dispute) with Google (as a verb) as a term to be used with care.
Even though it’s overblown (and more so with one more post), I’m OK with the fuss about the memo, and my role in it, because the Times is an important journalism institution and when an incident so clearly reveals journalists’ resistance to change, I think it’s worth noting.
Here’s a fun little inconsistency in the Times’ gymnastics to avoid Twitter and to justify its position (a position purportedly based in a desire for consistency):
- Corbett suggests “Twitter update” as an acceptable alternative.
- Corbett defended his position to Yahoo! saying that tweet wasn’t “dictionary-level standard English.”
- But check out the dictionary definitions of update. They are all about bringing things up to date, “as by adding new information or making corrections.”
The social-media use of update, a brief message shared publicly on a social network, isn’t in the dictionary yet either. But it isn’t as silly as tweet, so the very serious Times feels more comfortable using it.
Patrick LaForge has also responded on Twitter, so I thought I’d post my discussion there (with a tweet by Zach Seward of the Wall Street Journal too):
I responded by direct-message, thinking maybe Patrick and I had argued enough publicly (that was before the Corbett blog post). With his permission, I share his direct-message responses:
The Times has been a leader in the news business in innovation on its website (and many staffers use Twitter well) and its role as a leader in journalism is long, mostly proud and well-documented. So I recognize that the Times has been willing to change and respect why it would not change course lightly.
But I wonder whether the Times leaders’ pride in their conservative pace of accepting the evolution of language says a lot about the resistance innovation faces in the news business.
Update: I can’t post to Twitter right away because I’m getting the fail whale. Wonder if fail whale is OK in the Times?