Two weeks ago today, the Twitter feed Fake AP Stylebook was launched upon an unsuspecting planet.
Journalists who had long labored under the tyranny of the Associated Press Stylebook know that they’re supposed to use 1950s-style postal abbreviations for states, spell out the numbers one through nine and abbreviate street when it’s an address (17 Smith St.) but not a place (Smith Street).
Until now, though, we couldn’t be quite sure why the word Bible is always capitalized. It is, the Fakesters solemnly explain, a matter of pragmatism: “You don’t want to get letters from those people.”
Over the weekend I reached out to the Fakesters. Callie Kimball at Wired.com makes it sound like unearthing their identities was a journalistic coup worthy of Woodward and Bernstein, but I just asked them, and they told me. The founders, Mark Hale, 31, and Ken Lowery, 28, may soon have a book deal. If they are not the first to parlay Twitter into fame and fortune, they may well be the quickest.
The Fake AP Stylebook is also the subject of my column in the Guardian this week. It should go up later today tomorrow; I’ll link to it once it’s live.
The following e-mail transcript has been lightly edited, including (gasp) for AP style. Turns out I know it better than they do.
Media Nation: Who are you?
Mark: I’m co-creator Mark Hale, an Indiana native living in Louisville, Ky., with my fiancée and our menagerie of pets. I’ve left college twice, the first time from a Japanese studies program. The second time I left from a journalism program that included an internship as editor of the school paper, which is what led me to the simple joy of the real AP Stylebook. My interest in journalism coincided nicely with the weblog boom of the early 2000s, and I began commenting on comic-book-related sites and eventually started my own. Ken and I met through comments on our weblogs and have been acquaintances since. We’ve been in near-constant contact the last two years or so.
Ken: I’m Ken Lowery, a copy editor for the United Methodist Reporter, based in Dallas. I’m also a freelance movie critic and have wanted to be a journalist since I was a kid.
The rest of our team (whom we call our Bureau Chiefs) are made up of journalists, bloggers, cartoonists, graphic designers, a couple English professors, a professional librarian, a lawyer and others. We’re a diverse group, but we all like to write and we’re all big huge nerds.
MN: How did you come up with the idea of doing the Fake AP Stylebook?
Mark: Ken and I were chatting two weeks ago, and he showed me the feed for the real AP Stylebook on Twitter. With the proliferation of “fake” accounts, labeled and otherwise, I remarked to him, “I can’t tell if I’m sad or relieved that this isn’t a joke feed.” Ken got hit by a lightning bolt, he wrote a post about how television shows are denoted and I wrote one about Dr Pepper, each on our own feeds. Then he decided we should start it on its own feed, and off we went.
MN: Have you heard from people at the Associated Press? What have they told you?
Ken: We’ve spotted a few AP writers in our “response” feed, and they’re fans. We were also approached early in the feed’s life by a curious AP reporter who wanted to do a story, but that ultimately didn’t go anywhere.
Naturally, if and when the book becomes a reality, we’ll be changing up the title.
MN: You’ve been at this less than two weeks, and by Sunday you already had nearly 34,000 followers on Twitter. Are you surprised at the way this has taken off, or was world domination part of your plan from the beginning?
Mark: Tuesday, Nov. 4, will be the first day of our third week.
“Surprised” is pretty mild. We had no plans other than making each other laugh at first, and then dragging our friends into it so they could make us laugh, too. Given the talent of the people involved, I’m not surprised people like it; I’m just surprised there are so many. The number of followers is nearing the population of my small Indiana hometown.
MN: Not to get political on you, but is wingnut one word or two? Or should it be hyphenated?
Mark: Typically, no hyphen. Capitalize when referring to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figure Wingnut.
MN: What’s next?
Mark: We and the Bureau Chiefs are currently pulling together a sample chapter as part of a book proposal. We’ve been approached by three agents, and have finally signed on with one.
We hope to work in a good deal of the Twitter material, but so far we seem to be cranking out original material at a good clip. Other than that, we’re going to continue trying to make people laugh for free on the Internet. That’s where the real money is these days, after all.