City Weekly: How were The Bureau Chiefs born?
Anna Neatrour: The main thing a lot of us had in common was that we were running comic-book blogs. We were all on a mailing list with each other, and then [editors Mark Hale and Kevin Lowery] came up with the idea for the feed, and emailed everybody and went, “Hey, look at this.” Then everybody started writing jokes.
CW: TheBureauChiefs.com website identifies you as a librarian, currently. What is your own background in journalism?
AN: I don’t have a journalism background at all. Of the Bureau Chiefs, maybe three or four of them have more of a formal journalism background … I come to this more from the perspective of a media consumer.
CW: I have in my head the virtual equivalent of a Saturday Night Live writing staff meeting, where everyone tosses out ideas until something sticks.
AN: It’s actually pretty similar to that. When the Twitter feed launched, … we set up a separate Google group just for the Twitter feed, and we’d have a process where everyone would just toss out submissions, Ken and Mark would go “ha ha” at any particular one they liked, and we’d just compile them and send them along to Ken and Mark.
CW: It seems as though the new, longer-form material in Write More Good would be more challenging to create by committee. How did the process work for creating that original content?
AN: It was actually very similar to what we do for the Twitter feed. There were some chapters that everybody worked on all at once [with] little mini writing assignments: come up with a certain number of writing tips, a certain number of glossary entries. Then it was up to Ken and Mark to put everything together and make it coherent. There were other chapters that, based on interest, we’d split into groups of three or four people and work on those.
CW: Do you appreciate the anonymity of being able to remain mostly hidden behind the FakeAPStylebook “brand,” or do you wish you could have your byline on more of your own individual contributions?
AN: Usually I’ll re-tweet on my own personal Twitter account anything that I’ve been involved in writing, and that’s enough for me to signal to my own followers what I’ve written. But honestly, I’m so busy—I work part time, and I have twins—I’m only able to write in this collective manner, which is nice. I think all of us coming together were able to come up with something a lot bigger than any of us would be able to do on our own.
CW: It would seem that once something like this becomes successful, a project that started as a bunch of friends getting together for fun might end up with egos emerging. So how has that managed not to happen, assuming it hasn’t?
AN: [Laughs] We have a piece that will be launching on TheBureauChiefs.com that will be the hidden true story of the infighting behind the Fake AP Stylebook. But honestly, in practice, we haven’t had any problems at all. And I think that’s from a lot of us knowing each other, in some cases for several years, before this blew up. Everything went remarkably smoothly; in terms of setting up the book deal, Ken and Mark were more than fair in setting things up for the individual writers. So no real drama.
CW: Are you surprised that the gags seem to appeal to non-journalists as much as to insiders?
AN: I think initially, the people who kind of hopped on the feed and started re-tweeting were probably more in the journalism industry. But I think … the core of this is really rebellion against authority, and the authority we’re rebelling against is a journalism manual. Anybody that’s suffered through a painful high school English class or written a paper and had to deal with citing things, there’s a certain amount of universal appeal in poking fun at grammatical conventions.
CW: There’s often a somewhat cynical edge to the portrait of professional journalism painted in the Fake AP Stylebook jokes. Are you personally more cynical or optimistic about the long-term future of newspapers?
AN: There’s a little sidebar in the book where it goes through, “Radio will destroy print journalism,” “Television will destroy print journalism,” “The Internet will destroy print journalism,” “The invasion of the lizard robots from beyond hyperspace will destroy print journalism.” People have been predicting it forever, but I think one of the things we’re cynical about is that people keep predicting that death.