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Working Journalist: Corky Siemaszko

Pounding Out Punchy Prose On a Tight Tabloid Deadline

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Working Journalist: Corky Siemaszko

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Name: Corky Siemaszko of the New York Daily News

Job: Rewriteman

What are your responsibilities? You know the expression, "Honey, get me rewrite?"

Well, I'm the rewrite guy. I'm kind of a short-order word cook. I write about anything and everything - and I do it fast, mostly on a crushing deadline, and always with attitude.

On breaking news stories, I take feeds from reporters in the field and put the story together while making calls from my desk and checking the Web and wires to see what they have. I'm also called on to crank out hard news stories about everything from Bosnia to the Wall Street bailout to Barack Obama. I've written (and reported) hard-hitting investigative stories as well as fluffy features on celebrities and trends and even the odd fashion story or two. I have also done a lot of ghostwriting.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, I wrote the "violins" for the Daily News, which were lyrical preludes to the coverage. Those were very satisfying professionally because they allowed me to push the envelope and reach for the kind of language that rarely appears in standard news stories. And they really resonated with our readers in New York.

What's a typical workday? The only thing typical about my workday is that I arrive at the same place every day and type on a computer. What I write depends on what is happening.

What do you like/dislike about the job? I love the variety and the challenge and the competition. I get a real charge out of putting together a story when all hell is breaking loose. I take great pride in out-writing the competition. What I dislike is that as a rewriteman I almost never get to meet the people - or see the places - I write about.

Background: Born in London to a Polish father and British mother, I grew up in Chicago where I dug ditches, worked in factories, and played in rock bands while majoring in English at the University of Illinois. I talked my way into my first journalism job at the famed City News Bureau of Chicago. Now that was an adventure.

From there, I moved south and was a police reporter for the Tampa Tribune. After three years, I took my first journalism class at Ohio State, where I was a Kiplinger Fellow. My next stop was the Bergen Record, where I covered municipal corruption and was often called on to write the breaking news stories. Then, 15 years ago, I was hired to work rewrite at The Daily News and I have been doing so ever since.

What are the skills young journalists need today? If they don't realize they have to embrace the Web, then they have no business going into journalism. That said, an aspiring journalist who doesn't read a daily newspaper or two every day is a dolt. Much of the original content that appears on the Web still comes from ... that's right... newspapers.

Any advice to aspiring journalists? Read, read, read. Write, write, write. Being a reporter is a bit like playing bass guitar. Yeah, if you have fingers and a sense of rhythm, you can play the thing. But it takes lots and lots of practice and dedication to make music.

Any additional comments? Take to heart the City News mantra about news reporting - If your mother says she loves you, check it out.

Click here to read some of Siemaszko's post-Sept. 11 "violins" - snapshots of New York City's mood at the time.

Read more "Working Journalist" profiles here.

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