Funny how some assignments come about.
I pitched an idea about the neighborhoods of New York City’s outer boros to the editor of an in-flight I’ve worked with several times. The mention of my own neighborhood, Long Island City, created some fortuitous confusion– the editor wasn’t interested in the piece I proposed, but she had a colleague at another magazine who needed a feature about Long Island. Could I write it?
Sure I could.
The commissioning brief came in: 1,200 words about Manhasset Bay for a luxury yachting magazine from me, plus photos from Francisco. Deadline: less than a week. We made some interview appointments, packed our gear, rented a car, and headed east on the LIE.
Back home, writing the article, I consulted a number of sources for information-gathering and fact-checking purposes. I thought it would be interesting to share those with you, to show you the range of material that is used for a feature assignment. I’ve named the source, given a link if applicable, and explained its utility.
-The Great Gastsby (real book, not an online version):
The commissioning brief specifically mentioned Gatsby as the “inspiration” for the article, so I wanted to return to Fitzgerald’s novel to see how he portrayed the area. Two quotes from the book became my introduction for the article and helped frame the piece.
-A New York Times article about “Gatsby’s Long Island”:
The towns named in Fitzgerald’s novel–West Egg and East Egg–don’t exist. This article helped me clarify and confirm that West Egg and East Egg were modeled after Great Neck and Port Washington. It also affirmed an idea I was exploring in the article–that Fitzgerald’s rendering of the area was largely imaginative, not literal.
-Multiple maps of Long Island:
Maps are an incredibly useful resource for a travel writer, and I consult them all the time. I looked at several maps for this article, including the MTA’s Long Island Rail Road Map (to confirm Rail Road was spelled “Rail Road” rather than “Railroad,” for one thing).
-My own interview with Commodore Brown of the Manhasset Bay Yacht Club:
The Yacht Club is an important part of this article since the publication is a yachting magazine, so I took a tour of the club and interviewed its commodore, Daniel Brown, for about an hour. I returned to the audio of that interview several times while writing the final draft of the article.
-Manhasset Bay Yacht Club’s website:
I revisited the site several times to confirm names, dates, and facts about the club.
-Flickr and Google Images:
The article will be published in the spring/early summer and I was visiting in winter, so I wanted to see some photos of the yacht club when it was being enjoyed by its members (when we were there, it was deserted except for staff). Though I didn’t find many recent photos, the older photos I found helped me visualize the club within a historical context.
-Facebook and Twitter:
I checked both sites to confirm that the yacht club doesn’t have a “presence” on social media– an important point I was making to underscore the fact that the club remains true to formal traditions.
-The Cruising Guide to the New England Coast: Including the Hudson River, Long Island Sound, and the Coast of New Brunswick, a book by Robert C. Duncan, Roger S. Duncan, Paul W. Fenn, and W. Wallace Fenn:
I wanted to know what sailors and people with far more nautical knowledge than I had to say about the characteristics of the bay. This book was very useful in that regard.
-The website of Louie’s Bar & Grille:
The editor had specifically mentioned this restaurant and wanted it to be included in the article. I checked the site to read up on its history (very interesting) and its menu.
-The website of the Manhasset Chamber of Commerce:
I initially consulted this site to see if I could make contacts with Chamber staff for some information about upcoming events. This site was totally useless. It wasn’t even possible to find a phone number for the Chamber.
-Wikipedia entry on Prohibition:
I’m terrible with numbers, so I wanted to confirm the dates of Prohibition.
-Americana Manhasset website:
Again, this was a spot mentioned in the commissioning brief as a stop that should be included in the article as a highlighted attraction. I consulted the shopping center’s website to count the number of shops it has.