And, totally: The Bureau Chiefs could have easily compiled their feed’s 1,000+ tweets into a document, bound the thing up, and called it a day. Instead, they’ve created an almost wholly new set of short entries while also expanding their purview beyond simple style notes—the bread and butter of the Twitter feed—and into longer, actual-AP Stylebook-like explanations about the coverage of political campaigns, sports, the future of the news industry, etc. It’s an ambitious, and in that admirable, undertaking.
But a consequence of The Bureau Chiefs’ literary moxie is that @FakeAPStylebook, expanded into Write More Good, becomes less “joke told in 1,000 parts, with 1,000 different punchlines”…and more one big meta-joke, with a single, ongoing punchline. (“We wanted it to not be an Internet book per se but a real comedy book that had some depth to it,” Ken Lowery, Write More Good’s co-editor—and one of its fifteen writers—explained.)
But, then, depth isn’t an unalloyed good. Twitter isn’t just an infrastructure; it’s also, to some extent, an insulation—from verbosity, from complexity, from, generally, high expectations. Narrative platforms vary not just in length, but in form (Marshall McLuhan: Wannabe journalist known principally for his cameo in “Annie Hall”); the jokes coming from @FakeAPStylebook—the feed, now at 200,000+ followers, is still going strong—feel ad hoc and organic. And so does the audience interaction with them. If the tweets are funny, they might elicit a chuckle; if they’re really funny, a retweet. And if they’re neither of those…hey, no harm done. Twitter, free and easy in pretty much every sense, is the ultimate low-stakes environment—for both the producer of content and the consumer of it.
Not so for a book, though, which carries into every transaction the luggage of intellectual and financial expectation. Which is another way of saying that poop jokes printed in a book are different from poop jokes posted to Twitter. As a feed, dynamic and ephemeral, @FakeAPStylebook—its humor popping up, fully formed, between breaking-news updates and friends’ Foursquare check-ins—is a treat, subversive and surprising and satirical all at the same time. The tweets catch you off-guard, in a good way. They’re like being Rickrolled by E.B. White himself.
In book form, though, in the aggregate, the subversive and surprising and satirical become sort of sad. Without the benefit of Twitter’s enforced brevity—not to mention its levity—the meta-journalistic humor becomes a little too sharp, a little too raw, a little too awkward; it’s as if Mr. White, having had one cocktail too many, has suddenly backed you into a corner, forcing you to listen as he shouts about the sorry state of contemporary journalism. In the alchemy that spins tweets into Gutenbergian gold, irreverence gives way to, of all things, bitterness. “Fourth Estate: A term journalists use to make themselves feel like they make important contributions to society so they don’t eat a gun after covering their twentieth ham-and-beans fundraiser.” And then: “Do not use emoticons in headlines or the body of your text. If for some reason your story is about actual emoticons, please kill yourself.”
Funny? I guess. But also: :-(
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