'Philly Mag' editor offers tips, advice to aspiring journalists

The Daily Pennsylvanian
September 25, 1997

Steve Cohen speaks to students at the Kelly Writers House

Aspiring writers and the University's literary elite flocked to Houston Hall Monday night to take notes on how to "write in the real world" from Philadelphia Magazine Executive Editor Mark Cohen, a 1984 College graduate.

Cohen, a former writer for such publications as GQ, The New York Times Magazine, and The Washington Post Magazine, discussed his beginnings in the journalistic world as well as his climb to his current position.

Experienced in many aspects of professional journalism, Cohen provided more than 25 literary hopefuls and aspiring journalists with advice on how to succeed in the writing business.

"Life is not all good news or all bad news," Cohen said.

Coaching his listeners on the importance of writing a complete story before editing it, Cohen reassured the audience that writing an imperfect first draft does not constitute failure because "you have something there to work with."

Writing well means more than just a rough draft because "there is no substitute for a great idea," he said. "By the end of the piece, there should be lots of different buttons pushed."

Having experience in both writing and editing, Cohen also discussed the writer-editor relationship. A journalist's fear of having his writing scrutinized and dissected is very natural, he said. But the editing process is a learning and growing experience.

"Learn to use the editors rather than have them use you," he said. "Use them to the full advantage."

Cohen also encouraged prospective journalists to participate in internships and writing programs throughout the city. He especially emphasized the importance of getting "to know the publication that you want to write for."

Following Cohen's lecture, students asked the journalist a wide range of questions, focusing primarily on how to enter the business.

"I've always liked writing," College senior Christa Avampato said. "But I wasn't really sure of it as a career... It is nice to know that Penn is breeding these kinds of careers."

The talk was part of the Alumni Writer Series sponsored by the Kelly Writers House. Furture events include visits by an author of children's books and featured poets, as well as numerous fiction and poetry readings, House Resident Coordinator Kerry Sherin said.