Updating My Style

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I did something last week that had been unthinkable for the first 13 years of my working life – ordered my own copy of the Associated Press Stylebook.

Unthinkable because in every newsroom in which I landed from the moment I started in the newspaper business (including my university paper, The Gamecock), I was provided with one as a part of the job.

The one you see here is old – ancient in terms of stylebooks – having the distinction of being the first and (up until last week) only one I had actually paid money for. It was purchased in 1987 at the University of South Carolina Book Store at the beginning of my sophomore year when I decided to make the switch from broadcast journalism to news-editorial.

After I graduated, it sat on a number of bookshelves across the country but rarely got pulled down because in the place I really needed it – the newsroom – there was always a more recent version sitting on my desk.

So now, 26 years later, I figured that it was time to refresh things a bit. The new version arrived last Friday and just paging through it I was stunned by how much has really changed.

In 1987, having a personal computer in one’s dorm room was a luxury (I had an Apple IIC with a thermal printer). There was no Internet as we know it (that would take another decade to emerge) and all the reporting one did was in person or over the phone. Social networking didn’t exist. As such, there was no reason to focus on anything other than what we now regard as “analog” journalism.

The new version of the AP Stylebook is heavy with new (and not so new) digital-age references and style points, including how toAll the President's Men approach sources via e-mail, Twitter and Facebook. I love that today you can just cyber-stalk sources, where back in the day there were lots of editors telling lots of young reporters, “Sit in that bozo’s office until he comes out for lunch and get me that quote.”

It’s a stark reminder that between the time newspaper film classic All the President’s Men came out (1976) and when I graduated from college in 1991, nearly all that had changed in the “modern” newsroom was the arrival of clunky, pain-in-the-ass computers with green-on-black CRT displays that still required 12-character strings of code just to format a headline.

Simply the fact that you can now subscribe to digital versions of the Stylebook is a big indicator of how much has changed. I remember thinking during the internet boom of the late 1990s that an online Stylebook would be incredible. Now you can access it on your smartphone – something that very few of us anticipated.

So, with my new edition in hand I’ll study up and try to catch up on all the “official” bits that I’ve missed by not having been in a newsroom for nearly 10 years. The old one, however, will stay, simply because it now serves as a great little artifact and time capsule of where we once were and how far we’ve come.

One Amazon/Goodreads Combo, Comin’ Up

goodreads-and-amazonSo, Amazon – great, lumbering consumer juggernaut that it is – gobbled up literary social networking site Goodreads in (an impeccably timed) Good Friday announcement.

If you’re interested in catching up, check out the New York Timesoriginal story and this interesting bit of analysis on Amazon’s motivation from the Washington Post.

I saw the news but, consumed with pre-Easter prep and the celebrations of the weekend, put off posting until today. Not very New Media of me, but what the hell. Not much thoughtful analysis takes place by the bozos who insist on posting first.

But what struck me right off the bat when I heard of this move was, “Huh … Amazon, which already owns Shelfari, now feels it should own Goodreads, which was run by Barnes & Noble. Amazon makes Kindles, the most popular e-readers around, but couldn’t build itself a workable, popular literary networking site, while B&N, which produces the floundering Nook, had what was the most popular literary networking site around. Interesting how each could make one part of the puzzle work, but not the other.”

As I said, lots of other better informed folks have already chimed in on this, but I would like to point out that while ownership of the formerly pseudo-independent Goodreads by Amazon will likely put the recommendations portion of Goodreads under tighter control, it also puts two of the biggest arrows of the independent author/publisher arsenal into the same quiver.

Whether this will be good or bad for me and other indie authors remains to be seen. As both an author and a member of Codorus Press, I think my biggest concern is the danger of reader reviews somehow being deleted or diluted. As any author will tell you, one of the best ways to sell books – whether hard copies or e-books – is through word of mouth. And typically, that word of mouth these days comes thanks to online reviews from readers.

To take that major selling point from us kicks a leg out from beneath authors and small publishers who, shunned by big-box booksellers – of which B&N is the last – were standing on just one leg to begin with.

What Amazon should remember is that for many indies, Kindle Direct and the Amazon-owned print-on-demand service CreateSpace are the only places where some titles are available. For the company to keep Goodreads as intact and independent as possible would better serve Amazon by continuing to drive sales in what I would suspect are its two biggest growth sectors.