There's a piece in The New York Times that indicates we're in a whole new phase of preciousness about what we should allow ourselves to be exposed to on the Internet, and there's a parallel story that relates to The New York Times itself. The first is a silly little story about people who are sick and tired of looking at pictures of other people's kids on Facebook. Some technologically creative folks have made it possible to block such things, writes The Times' Austin Considine, with a Chrome extension called Unbaby.me. According to its makers, it "deletes babies from your newsfeed permanently," replacing them with "awesome stuff" (like cats, or whatever you choose to replace babies with). It's not just an app, though, it's a movement. "Hopefully this will spark conversation and change when you post about it on Facebook," they explain. This comes just a week after a piece in The Times that seemed to reflect another anti-baby sentiment: Brooklyn residents, at least some of them who are childless, are resentful that one of their bars is being overrun by kids. Two anti-baby stories, back to back! Does this foreshadow some new baby backlash era?
In today's story, Considine mentions and links to AntiBaby, a website that proclaims its reason for existence as being "because we're sick of all these fucking babies!" He also alludes to the blog STFU Parents, though he neither mentions it by name or links to it, instead using its tagline: "There are already blogs devoted to mocking over-sharing parents who, for example, post photos of their placentas. ('You used to be fun,' reads the tagline. 'Now you have a baby.')"
STFU Parents may be one of the most well known of the "anti-baby" movement, though, as its author clarifies, it's "tongue-in-cheek and not anti-baby or anti-parent at all." It gets 1.5 million page views a month; it also has 25,000 Facebook fans. It's also worth noting that the site's name is an acronym, not the f-word spelled out. She tells us, "I use the acronym for a reason! (So that people understand it's 'Internet lingo' and therefore have a greater chance of thinking that it's tongue-in-cheek)." That writer is currently anonymous and reached out to The Times, using the initial B, to ask for an attribution for her tagline:
This article that is running today has a mention and quote from my website without attribution or mention of the blog by name. I wanted to bring it to your attention with the hope that it will be credited. http://www.nytimes.
com/2012/08/09/fashion/ unbabyme-keeps-baby-pictures- off-facebook.html?_r=2
Here's the response she received from Senior Editor for Standards Greg Brock:
Dear "B" --
We did not name the site because The Times does not use such references when they refer to things like Shut The F*ck Up. Just last week we omitted a full reference to WTF (What The F---). Instead, we noted that we were referring to a podcast by Marc Maron.
We did not claim or intimate that STFU's tagline was created by us or by our reporter. We were carefull to note it was a tagline of a Web site.
I suspect you will not agree with this decision. But this is part of the standards of The Times. For one reason, we don't like to include such references for younger readers -- or for any readers who might be offended. Granted, we aren't the parents of young readers. But we feel some obligation to try to maintain The Times as a respectable publication and respect all of our readers.
You have your approach. Other publications have their approach. And we have ours. That's what makes the world go round. And isn't it great that we all have the freedom to choose what to publish and what not to? You created and designed your site and you work very hard to execute your mission. That's what we try to do with The Times. The site's name and contents work for your readers. And we try to make The Times work for our readers and meet their expectations of us.
Best regards, Greg Brock
Senior Editor for Standards
In the emailed conversation that continued between Brock and "B," Brock explains also that this is "a daily issue" that "comes up in numerous ways. Particularly in quotations," he writes. "The rest of the world quotes someone as saying "f*ck" and we paraphrase it and say they used a vulgar word."
What is surprising, however, is that even in the piece itself, there is inconsistency. The AntiBaby website puts a bold f-bomb right on its site, and that link is included. Elsewhere in The Times, editors linked to Emma Koenig's blog, "Fuck! I'm in My Twenties" (or simply "viral blog" in The Times) in their profile of the blogger, though they don't mention it by name in the piece. And here's how The Times treated that recent children's book with the controversial title. "B" asked Brock about those instances, and he wrote that he hadn't been involved in that article and didn't know who was. He continued, "As I noted, these come up pretty much daily. This may have been a case where an editor decided on her/his own to use it without bringing it up for discussion with top editors. That usage may very well have caused editors to make it clear that these things had to be discussed. I do know that today, as a general guideline, we try to avoid using dashes."
He continued: "I'm confident you will find other references if you search the archives back to 1851. There was one editor, now retired, who was here for 44 years and pretty much single-handedly made all such decisions. I suspect he allowed such usage in some cases and not in others. Not everyone agreed with him. And today, we don't try to guess what he might have done in a certain situation. We take each case and try to be as fair and consistent as is humanly possible."
But when the standard becomes reflective of inconsistency more than any real standard, maybe it's time to revamp the standard. The New Yorker, another esteemed publication, recently made pretty liberal use of that scary f-word; maybe The Times should take a cue from them and join in the fun—or perhaps the Unbaby.me folks could help us out with another app, something to hide all the bad words we don't want to see.