July 29, 2010
There’s a label on their Twitter landing page that says, “If you use this, you will get fired.”
The Bureau Chiefs, as they call themselves, behind @FakeAPStylebook are a group of journalists, writers, artists, graphic designers, a librarian, an English professor and a lawyer who enjoy giving readers “style tips for proper writing” with their own comedic twist. Here, co-founder Ken Lowery explains how the account began and offers some tips on how to effectively use humor and creativity when operating a Twitter account.
Why did you decide to start @FakeAPStylebook?
The account was a joke between some friends and me. We’re all on Twitter, most of us have created joke accounts that make us laugh and receive some level of notoriety — maybe a thousand followers. Fame isn’t really the point, though. We’d just hit on a good comedy prompt (“the thoughts of an articulate zombie horde,” or “sightings at a comic book convention that never ends”) and see how far we could take it before the joke ran out of steam or we lost interest. Once we got some vindication that the joke had legs, we made the account.
How do you choose your content and how often do you try to update it?
The writers of the Twitter feed are all part of a Google Group, within which we have several threads that keep a running tabulation of reactions, questions to the account, submissions ideas and so on.
Whenever anyone has an idea for a submission to the feed, they put it in the submissions thread, and anyone can respond and suggest changes or declare it good to go. [Co-founder Mark Hale] and I have the ultimate say-so, but these guys and gals are funny, so if they come up with something good, we run with it.
Once a contributor gets three or more submissions with the thumbs-up, they put together a submission list to add to our master file. When the mood strikes, we’ll answer some questions people throw at us.
What advice do you have for crafting a creative tweet?
I can speak for our general style rules. Yes, the Fake AP Stylebook has its own style guide, such as: 1) Keep it PG-13, though the occasional sharp veer into R-rated is always welcome for shock value; 2) Don’t get too political; 3) Don’t deliberately antagonize people.
Obviously we’re flexible on these, but it makes for a good guideline. The rest is just staying with the tone of the account: dusty, authoritative, always using the editorial “we.” You can get a lot of mileage out of saying absurd things with dry finality.
How has the Associated Press responded to the account? And has there been any other backlash?
A few days into the Twitter account’s life, we were contacted by an entertainment writer for the AP.
He thought it was a fun story and wanted to talk to us about it, so we did the interview. A few days later, he told us his editors had axed it — and he was mad about that.
That was the last official contact we had from the AP. The only other time they — as an institution — have acknowledged our existence was to mention that they inspired a “popular satirical Twitter account.”
The reception has been largely positive, and sometimes surprising.
That said, I know at least one of us has been told by a colleague that they’re concerned the Fake AP Stylebook will steer students of the English language down the wrong path, even if we have “fake” right there in our name. So you can’t please everyone all the time.
On the other hand, it’s kind of cool to think we might have a hand in destroying the English language.