METM16 keynote talk

New Yorker style: the major arcana 

Mary Norris, New York, USA  

The New Yorker is well known for its eccentricities of style. The magazine’s excellence is, of course, due to the editor-in-chief and the assigning editors—those who work with the writers—but I propose that we who work on the words, enforcing tenets of style that have survived several editorial regimes, are the soul of the magazine and its institutional memory. Using the ancient flow chart, we will take a guided tour of The New Yorker’s editorial process, from manuscript to newsstand, defining the terms and job descriptions, and noting where the process has been condensed (but not simplified) by technology. Often a copy editor comes into conflict with editors, writers, artists—even designers. I will draw on real-life examples of work that has appeared in the magazine—fiction, nonfiction, criticism, cartoons—to show how these conflicts are resolved. Basically it is a tug-of-war between tradition and innovation, with tradition exerting a kind of gravitational pull on the content and the look of The New Yorker. Why do we care? When do we cave? How does it feel? Whom or what do we serve?

Mary Norris joined the editorial staff of The New Yorker in 1978 and has been a copy editor and proofreader there for more than 30 years. She has written for The Talk of the Town and for She is the star of “Comma Queen,” The New Yorker’s video series about language, and the guardian of the magazine’s storied comma shaker. Her bestselling book, Between You & Me—a cross between a memoir and a usage guide—was published last year.