Recession? Blame it on Twitter

Listen up, ladies and gents. We need to swallow an unpalatable fact. The recession is not down to the previous Government’s incontinent overspend, neither is it down to Donkey Osborne’s dunderheaded insistence that we continue to pay as the ship goes down … then up … then down … then up … then down …

No, blame for the recession must lie with us, the workers. More specifically, our love affair with Lolcats and videos of boys getting hit in the balls by their skateboards.


Hours of productivity are lost every working day. YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Flickr, LinkedIn, Soundcloud, Myspace, Mumsnet — for every taste and proclivity there’s a social network to suit; there’s even Instagram for those seeking to elevate narcissism to art by means of a sepia tint. Suddenly a job is something to do when the internet goes down.

A couple of weeks ago I realised I was getting absolutely nothing done. I had started to define a successful day as one in which I hadn’t retweeted something from @thedailymash. A productive day simply meant that I’d mustered enough self-control not to rattle off a foaming response to a comment on The Guardian online, or when I’d restrained my natural instinct to tackle the general f***wittery that abounds whenever a Boden* of mothers comes together in a chat room.


I found myself spending more and more of my day following Bitly breadcrumbs and falling down hyperlink wormholes to Wonderland. I needed to get a grip. I needed to choose.

Naturally the one that had to go was Facebook — the Cadpig of the social networking litter, the sacrificial Eva Zawistowski. And I felt good deactivating, Dear Reader, as if a load had been lifted from my shoulders. I could hang up the ball gown and big pants of my Facebook presence and get comfy as I slipped back to work in those tired old joggers otherwise known as real life.

Because the thing with social media — and I speak as one who handles it as part of my job — is that it’s a suspension in which hangs varying concentrations of truth. It dilutes and distorts, giving weight to the light and flimsy while making light of anything of weight. It’s a land covered in Bong-trees, feeding us from a runcible spoon.

And I bloody love it.

In the linguistic playground of social media, words get tripped over, turned upside down, spun around and bullied until they cry. Spelling is reduced to sandpit phonics, sentences are replaced with acronyms, capitalisation is considered a spoilsport, and punctuation? AWOL — running off with tone, pace and sense to end up lying face down somewhere in a stream of consciousness. Within this sphere, we experiment on language like a happy five-year-old on a worm.


© headsup52 on Flickr

But. Informal ways of expression like to play truant. Our dear old ‘Tiser —The Berwick Advertiser — prints more spelling mistakes, typos, reporting errors and grammatical pratfalls than a blind dyslexic with bananas for fingers typing up a dictionary using a back-to-front keyboard. (Don’t write in, it’ll only end in sarcasm and a long lecture on the subjectivity of humour and your inability to grasp it.)

Their journalists should console themselves with the thought that it’s not entirely their fault, because a) like us, they’re travellers in The Time that Attention to Detail Forgot, and b) Johnston Press, owners of Tweeddale Press, have made scything cuts to sub-editing services across their titles in a bid to centralise operations. Considering ‘Tiser editor Phil Johnson has a sub-editing background, this must feel like a stake through his Hart’s Rules.

How do I know this? Because social networking, while setting me up on a date with Osteoporotic Destiny in later life, has also put me in touch with some amazing people — people who are generous with their time and knowledge, people who care about the small stuff, people who go through life attacking limp grammar with the spray starch of exactitude and who will bring syntax casseroles to me when I break that hip.

osteo 2

Matthew Kilburn — Oxford academic and contributor to Time and Relative Dissertations in Space: Critical Perspectives on Doctor Who, the kind of title passing for porn in academic circles — is one such chap, and what he doesn’t know about Johnston Press ain’t worth knowing. He’s the guy who I’ll ring up when the time finally comes to watch The ‘Tiser swirl down the pan. We’ll hold hands as it disappears and then settle down to watch Children of the Stones on DVD.

Marcus Trower — author/copy editor — is a delight on the subject of participial clauses and compound predicates. Sadly though, he has recently come a cropper for daring to point out a dangling modifier which had crept into an online interview (read about it here). Not only was this in The Observer/Guardian, but worse — the subject of it was a poet. Yes, in the eyes of your average hippy M&S customer these were the conditions for a perfect storm, and Marcus found himself the focus of a public flogging.

This brings us neatly to why it’s important that we don’t let the glorious mutations of speech, text or tweet jump species to mingle with the DNA of the professional written word, because as Marcus rightly points out:

“The problem with bad grammar is that it makes you focus on the grammar and not the content. Some people won’t be able to read past that second sentence. I couldn’t, so I’m never going to know whether it was an interesting piece or not.”

I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve landed on a company website prepared to make my bank card bleed, only to have been brought up short by a typo. If they don’t care about getting something as simple as that right, what else can’t they be bothered with? Invariably I hang on to my cash.

In the business world, correct grammar conveys credibility. There has been some great reporting by The ‘Tiser in recent months, yet it still needs to tackle this recurring problem of inaccuracy before it can lose the rather unkind nickname of The Badvertiser. Times are proving brutal for regional newspapers, and it will be the ones able to demonstrate integrity to their readers that will have any chance of surviving.

So remember, the next time you hear about a triple-dip recession, it

  • has nothing to do with the present Government pretending not to notice the bloody great fiscal iceberg powering towards us shouting, “So you think you’re cold and hard?” 
  • and it has nothing to do with the last Government’s profligacy as it attempted to buy friends and make people like them on Facebook.

A triple-dip recession will be down to us

  • withdrawing the means of production as we wait for the next baby-puking video to go viral,
  • and scaring away investment as we inadvertently make our corporate webpages an extension of our Twitter timeline.

Yay, indeed.

twitter page

(*A Boden — the collective noun for a gathering of professional women who have given up their identities and all sense of fun to have children.They’re often found on Mumsnet or wherever there is a high density of fair trade coffee shops.)

How much of your working day do you spend online and what effect, if any, has it had on your work? Do typos bother you? Is it inevitable that social media terminology and conventions will make their way into professional copy? I’d love to hear your views.



9 comments on “Recession? Blame it on Twitter

  1. If you want to see the worst web site in the world, although not one where you choose to spend money. Rather it is one of those quangoie type things which your taxes have been poured into because it sounds to the Islington elite to be the sort of thing we should have. Look, if you can bear it, at the web presence of the William Elder building. Facts which are twisted from naked fiction, delivered in the English language of a complete idiot who cant see the keys because their head is up their own posterior. Huge chunks of text over others, numbers which don’t add up and truth, whatever that is, hidden by spin.

    • Hi Mike

      Thanks for your comment.

      I’m intrigued! Can you send me the link? By the sound of it, I don’t think we can blame social media on this one. Public bodies in general are terrible communicators, a result of being initiated in the dark art of corporate speak at an early age. Further, many smaller institutions attempt to save costs by managing their own web presence. This is a risky strategy, unless they have someone with a natural eye for design and a good grasp of the fundamentals of copywriting. If businesses simply employed the services of a proofreader to run a professional eye over any web copy before it went live, they could save themselves a lot of embarrassment and money in the long run.


      • Hi


        I’ve not looked at it for a little while, I want to gouge my eyes out every time I do. The whole site is a pack of lies and justification for a handful of salaries. Rumour has it, and I’ve never got to the bottom of it, just who, but the allegation was that the wife of one of them was paid five grand to do it!!!!!

        Create the web site that is! LOL

        It would take me hours to point out all of the crap and multi ,illion pound fibs!



      • Gosh, you are severe, Mike! It’s definitely amateur. I’d be very surprised if money changed hands for that; it looks like a typical DIY site (to save costs at a guess, being a community group). It’s a shame, because it doesn’t do its job of promoting their work. Less copy, properly written and accompanied by strong images, would have done the job far more effectively.

        Keep that spoon away from your eyes! 😉


  2. Madam,

    Hart’s Rules? A nice touch. Does house style permit an idiomatic ‘old school’ for approbation’s sake? There’s an em ruler here that says, in fealty to Dottie Parker’s old joke, ‘no pica, me no like-a’.

    Seriously, you can flog the Advertiser until the cash cows come home (and Johnston Press, God knows…) I could defend their honour (which is more, etcetera and so forth…) Just for the sake of the poor little preposition, however: but.

    Accuracy might not be top of the to-do list, just at the moment. Throwing pages together for more-than-several titles in some hellish bunker while fingers reach nubs transcribing press ‘releases’ – for who would wish to keep them? – is the last halt on local journalism’s death march. Why stop at ‘local’?

    Vouching only for the person in this seat, I take an especial, perverse pleasure in the hag-ridden spectre that once was headline writing. You have to know what it was to get every joke. If Harry Evans was living at this hour… Oh, hold on; he’s in New York with his knighthood and his passport…

    Keep up the good (if louche and frenetic) work.


    • Sir

      Many thanks for your compliments. Forget flowers, forget dinner, but call me louche and I’m yours for ever …

      You really are the type of eloquent commentator that this publication should seek out and put on retainer. Hart’s Rules, em rules, Dorothy Parker – all mentioned in one short paragraph. If I didn’t know better I would say you were out to seduce me. I wouldn’t have had such a pleasingly tabloid offer since The Sun offered a week at Butlins for a fiver.

      Do you have a story to tell about the news industry? Forgive my presumption, but your comment seems composed of cigarette smoke, whisky fumes and two-day shirts, and while I’m not so callous as to wish you as unwell as Bernard, I do appreciate a raconteur.



  3. Madam,

    I draw the line at two-day shirts. You, on the other hand – if I’ve missed my guess, don’t stop writing the cheque – don’t run to ‘on retainer’. Nor do I seek – even if it t’were Paris and Janet Flanner and the babes were taking notes – to seduce.

    The allusion to fumes is, of course, patently an outrage. As Scott and Ernie said to me on that last refulgent night in Montmartre – before Ernest broke my nose – there are no second drinks in Scottish lives. Just umpteenths. But the fags? Yeah, fuck, got me.

    I would add, merely, that if such was ever your best tabloid offer, you have not been around. Do I know shit? How close does the fine city of Rhetoric have to be burned to the ground before the ground complains about the dumb questions?

    I am still active in the old game, however. Google, woman, and do keep up. I live upstream, but not too far off. The amusing part, for scholars of cultural decline, is that I can write – does your chaste posture allow this? – whatever the hell I please. Let’s see…

    So: what did you want to know about the cardinal?


    • Sir

      Clearly as a woman of refined taste and genteel sensibilities, I should have known better than to offer money in return for textual favours. I can only imagine that once again the spirit of darling Nancy descended, persuading me that sex is a sovereign cure for everything. (I must confess to having doubts on this matter, although it does seem to improve one’s stats somewhat.)

      So I have dutifully Googled you, despite my misgivings of performing a proper verb. I feel confident that I have have narrowed you down to either a cricket player — in which case may I petition for a return of cricket whites and red crotches? The colour of summer, I find — or an awarding-winning journalist. There is also an outside chance you’re the proprietor of a motorcycle dealership in Bedlington.

      I can’t deny I find it intriguing the notion that you write whatever you please, for who is completely free in these matters? Hence this humble blog. Our local papers are unable to review anything objectively for fear of offending readers and advertisers alike. While you profess to write as fancy takes you, do you? Because aren’t you in turn limited by the outlook of the paper to which you contribute, their readership? Letting out seams and dropping waists would be a journalistic necessity, I would think, in order to get the best fit for a wide and bloated public. Unless, of course, you deliberately court the baying mob, cheering them on as the windmill burns.

      How would you feel about penning a guest post on the subject of, for example, the future of regional journalism, its timidity and the climate of fear in which it operates? While I appreciate you are as Zeus to the risk-averse Pygmies of Johnston Press — fear not, no misapprehension — your input would be valuable and welcome.

      Of course, all this may be so much irrelevance and you could in fact cut me a rather sweet deal on a Yamaha Fazer 1000.



  4. It just struck me: perhaps you think that somehow I haul the Advertiser’s galley around the Dead Sea of the Johnston Press tidal pool (local). Come, madam. I am one of the last of the real and alive. (That Google thing?)

    Apologies, nevertheless, for any misapprehension

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