A Singapore newspaper is looking for journalists who can make their stories sing. Sing only — and not dance as well?
The New York Times makes no such demands. Its editors just want the stories to "flow" — run smoothly from beginning to end so readers can get all the information easily, without getting confused.
That's the job of New York Times copy editors — getting the stories to flow. Is the language unclear? Clear it up. Does the story leave any question unanswered? Talk to the reporter,do some quick research – just get the answer. Is the story too wordy? Trim it. And, of course, get the facts and grammar right.
It's interesting reading Merrill Perlman, who manages the copy desks in the New York Times newsroom — only the newsroom, not the editorial section which handles Maureen Dowd, Paul Krugman and the others – about the work she and her copy editors do. She says:
We try hard to preserve a writer’s voice, but we also want to make sure that the writer’s voice isn’t louder than the information the writer is presenting…Many writers are surprised at how heavily they are edited here, but most recognize that the reader’s understanding of the material should come first, accompanied by literary flourishes, but not overshadowed by them.
They also blog, she says, and come up with clever headlines like this:
I’ll Have a Big Mac,
Serenity on the Side
(about a McDonald's redesigned using principles from feng shui)
But most interesting of all is what she has to say about words and usage — how the language is changing at the New York Times. Now the Times style is:
1900s, 1960s, and not 1900's and 1960's
But it's sticking with the "Koran" and not changed to the "Quran", the spelling used by the Associated Press.
Perlman answers readers' questions on split infinitives and sentences ending with prepositions (she is okay with both), what they look for in copy editors (a love of words, of course), the total number of words in the New York Times on Sundays (250,000 to 280,000 excluding the Magazine and special supplements) among other things. New York Times fans will love it.
By the way, she mentions Strunk twice and Fowler thrice. American prefers Englishman!