12.24.2007

the rewrite man

This is a really interesting obituary.

Sylvan Fox wasn't a famous writer, but he was a consummate craftsperson. Those of you who have written on deadline or to a tight word length will appreciate this anecdote.
Mr. Fox was a reporter at The New York World-Telegram & The Sun when, on March 1, 1962, he was part of a team assigned to cover an airplane crash on Long Island that killed all 95 passengers. While his fellow reporters at the paper rushed to the crash site and phoned him with their unprocessed notes, Mr. Fox calmly worked the facts into order and delivered an article within a half-hour of the accident.

He then rewrote the article for seven editions of the paper, adding new details as they came in. Within 90 minutes of the crash, he had produced a 3,000-word article. The Pulitzer was awarded to Mr. Fox and two colleagues in the now-obsolete category of "local story, edition time."

A 3,000 word story in 90 minutes, pieced together from other people's reportage. Try it some time - without using a computer to move paragraphs around.

Fox was the first "rewrite man" to win a Pulitzer Prize. I always recognized his byline in the New York Times because of his interesting name: the forest fox.

He was 79 years old and lived in Manhattan.

1 comment:

James said...

'Course, nowadays, you don't need to piece together other people's reportage, you can make the details up on the spot...