Along with many folks, we're worried about what will become of our hometown paper when the collapse of the print business finally forces the New York Times into a major restructuring,
(We estimate that this will require the NYT to shrink newsroom costs by about two-thirds, from $200 million a year to $70 million or so).
We are encouraged, however, by consistent reminders that NYTCo has plenty of fat it can cut before it gets to the real meat of the place.
The lengthy memo the company published internally to explain why it was banning the use of the word "tweet" outside of an "ornithological context."
The writer of the memo, "standards editor" Phil Corbett, clearly took this decision quite seriously. He also took the time to jovially persuade the 1,200 or so remaining employees in the NYT's vast newsroom not to use the word "tweet."
We'd guess that the research, logic, and writing that went into the banning of the word "tweet" consumed at least a day of Phil's time (if not a lot more). And we figure that most New York Times readers, ourselves included, would not stop visiting the web site if we were forced to continue to read the word "tweet."
So we've found some more fat for the NYT to cut!
(Not Phil, per se. Although we confess we can't ever imagine running a publication rich enough to support a dedicated "standards editor," we're not suggesting that Phil himself is NYT fat. We just hope/assume that, next time the cost axe falls, Phil's time can be redeployed in a more productive capacity. For example, if we were running the newsroom, we might tell Phil to make the decision to ban the word "tweet" into a reader poll and post it on the web site. That way, the decision would generate some pageviews, at least.)
Here, courtesy of the Awl, is Phil's memo:
How About "Chirp"?
Some social-media fans may disagree, but outside of ornithological contexts, "tweet" has not yet achieved the status of standard English. And standard English is what we should use in news articles.
Except for special effect, we try to avoid colloquialisms, neologisms and jargon. And "tweet" -- as a noun or a verb, referring to messages on Twitter -- is all three. Yet it has appeared 18 times in articles in the past month, in a range of sections.
Of course, new technology terms sprout and spread faster than ever. And we don't want to seem paleolithic. But we favor established usage and ordinary words over the latest jargon or buzzwords.
One test is to ask yourself whether people outside of a target group regularly employ the terms in question. Many people use Twitter, but many don't; my guess is that few in the latter group routinely refer to "tweets" or "tweeting." Someday, "tweet" may be as common as "e-mail." Or another service may elbow Twitter aside next year, and "tweet" may fade into oblivion. (Of course, it doesn't help that the word itself seems so inherently silly.)
"Tweet" may be acceptable occasionally for special effect. But let's look for deft, English alternatives: use Twitter, post to or on Twitter, write on Twitter, a Twitter message, a Twitter update. Or, once you've established that Twitter is the medium, simply use "say" or "write."
UPDATE: Apparently even the memo wasn't enough. Phil had to clarify his remarks in the media:
Corbett said that in straight news stories, "tweet" should be avoided except in special cases. As for banning, Corbett said he doesn't actually have the power to issue such decrees. "I can't even convince people to use 'who' and 'whom' correctly," he said.
"It's guidance," he said. "It's trying to put people on alert that, in my humble opinion, 'tweet' is a word that hasn't become ... dictionary-level standard English."
Apropos of our point above, we note that Phil himself admitted that he doesn't even have any power at the company.