Remember Merrill Perlman, the New York Times copy queen who did a loooooong Q&A last year? Well, she’s just started another one: Talk to the Newsroom: Director of Copy Desks Merrill Perlman. So now’s your chance to have those burning editorial questions finally doused. One of my esteemed former colleagues at St. Martin’s has a question right on the first page:
A Vanishing Breed?
Q. I’m a managing editor at St. Martin’s Press in New York City. We are having more and more trouble finding literate freelance copy editors and proofreaders — people who know the basics of punctuation, spelling, grammar, something of what the English language can or can’t do, perhaps enough knowledge of a major European language to add an accent or make a past participle agree with a noun. Are newspapers experiencing the same problem, and if so, how are you dealing with it?
— Robert Cloud
A. You’re right, Mr. Cloud, it’s harder to find people who know what good copy editors need to know. You can argue that English usage has gone downhill, or you can argue that English is changing, but a better answer, I suspect, is plus ça change. . . .
Note that although Ms. Perlman is, of course, answering many general questions about copy editing, her primary field of expertise is newspaper style, and the Times‘s flavor thereof in particular. Should you have questions relating specifically to U.S. trade book style, you might want to ask the wonderfully salty Chicago Manual answeristas instead.