- The Washington Times - Friday, June 12, 2009

The press is cleared to Tweet.

“Twitter” is among more than 60 new entries in the 2009 Associated Press Stylebook released Thursday. This means that journalists can bandy the term around in their stories without sullying their credibility or offending the style police.

The AP publication - now in its 56th edition - is the bible of uniformity in word usage for the U.S. press, though most newspapers use individual guidelines and exceptions.

“The verb forms are to Twitter or to Tweet,” notes the advisory for Twitter, initially a noun referring to the online social-networking mode that limits communications to 140 characters or fewer, which typically shears off proper punctuation and spelling.

But the once-cheeky mode is now legit - the AP Stylebook itself has a Twitter feed that boasts more than 7,300 followers. Twittering has already proven to be a viable way to break news stories. Politicians, celebrities and journalists in recent months have Tweeted news of their projects, quelled rumors and previewed their big scoops.

And in March, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos interviewed Sen. John McCain entirely via Twitter, revealing that the Arizona Republican would not consider offering a federal bailout to troubled banks.

“Twitter’s fun,” Mr. Stephanopoulos said in an e-mail. “The concision it demands is both blessing and curse. You gain directness. You lose a bit of subtlety and comprehensiveness.”

Yet journalists who maintain their own Twitter presence have at times revealed a little too much about themselves or their news organizations. In late May, the New York Times appointed veteran journalist Jennifer Preston as “social media editor,” though management denied that she was actually a “Twitter cop.”

“Jennifer will work closely with editors, reporters, bloggers and others to use social tools to find sources, track trends and break news, as well as to gather it. She will help us get comfortable with the techniques, share best practices,” said Times Deputy Managing Editor Jon Landman in a letter to the newsroom.

Ms. Preston would help establish “the proper balance between personal and professional,” he advised.

For the Tweeting-challenged, Twitter.com was founded in 2006 by researchers in a San Francisco podcasting company who simply asked the public: “What are you doing?” Millions responded.

The innocuous activity has attracted the etymological elite. Lexicographers with the Oxford English Dictionary have monitored 1.5 million random Tweets since January, cataloging the most frequently used words and formats. Twitter, they concluded, has an “intrinsically solipsistic nature.”

The AP Stylebook, meanwhile, is wrestling with other pressing concerns of the day.

Among the words and phrases added to the list of acceptable usage this year as a reaction to news events are such business jargon as “collateralized debt obligations,” “Libor,” “reverse auction” and “securitization.” Also now approved are “Al-Quds,” “hajj,” “hijab” and “kaffiyeh,” all Arabic terms.

In addition, journalists can now use “CEO” on first reference for chief executive officer and “mpg” for miles per gallon. The stylebook also demands journalists use both the first and last names of sitting U.S. presidents in their accounts.

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