Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Punctuation Infatuation: Life of a Newspaper Copy Editor

At the recent American Copy Editors Society conference, Bob Garfield of NPR's "On the Media" interviewed Merrill Perlman, director of copy desks at The New York Times. Here are a few excerpts:
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] Now, at the risk of stereotyping, how would you describe a typical copy editor? What kind of people are they? [John Weigle -- typical copy editor? -- is pictured at right for illustration purposes only]
MERRILL PERLMAN: I'm not sure there is a typical copy editor. I think they share some common traits. They all share that love of language. They all share that desire to get it right. Sometimes it's an obsession to get it right, and that's not necessarily a good thing. They don't so much care about the public recognition, but they like to bitch about not having the public recognition, so they're a complaining bunch.
BOB GARFIELD: I must say [LAUGHS], over several decades copy editors have saved my sorry ass more times than I can really count. Literally I can't count them, because I don't remember a single episode. What I do remember is the few times that copy editors edited errors into my stories. ...
MERRILL PERLMAN: There's sort of an unwritten credo that you do not damage somebody else's work. That no one should be surprised to read something under their own byline. So, you know, when copy editors do edit errors in, I think they probably flog themselves more than a lot of reporters will flog themselves, because that's worse. Now, the flip side of that is all the catches that copy editors make that they're never recognized for.
BOB GARFIELD: Yeah. There are those.

You can read the entire transcript here.