BY GABRIELLA MANGINO
“I’ll only be a fact-checker,” I told my mom when I received the email from Westchester Magazine’s Copyeditor that I got the internship for summer 2015. Okay, technically I was going to be an “Editorial Intern,” but a huge description of the position was fact-checking articles for the magazine. “Okay, I’ll just fact-check the heck out of everything really, really well, and that will make me stand out as an intern amongst the 11 others I’ll be sharing my summer with,” I told myself. Do a really, really good job at fact-checking, and maybe you’ll get to write something of your own? I’m a writer, after all.
Westchester Magazine is one of my favorite publications from home: Westchester County, NY. A monthly issue which features both hard news about the county on its website and soft, lifestyle news in the physical magazine, it’s the “here’s everything you need to know about Westchester” source every resident knows about. From food and restaurants to entrepreneurs and leaders, this magazine covers everything and everyone new and exciting happening in the county, before any other news source does.
Upon accepting the summer internship, I would be spending about 17 hours in the office a week. I’d be getting my own cubicle for the time I was there (which was pretty swanky and modern, equipped with a Mac and expensive rolling chair), which would undoubtedly make me feel more legit and vital to the department’s operation. Still, I was a little discouraged that so much of my summer would be spent fact-checking, mindlessly verifying information with individuals directly and online so that no little mistake, not even a typo in someone’s name, made it in the magazine. I’d be making sure grammar and punctuation were correct, although I’d be reading the works of freelancers and editors (so wouldn’t they already know how to write…correctly?). My initial thoughts, as they usually are, were completely wrong and overridden by the end of the first week. Holy smokes, was my job in the Editorial Department important.
Amy, the Copywriter, immediately took a liking to me (at least that’s how I saw it) and gave me three or four assignments to begin fact-checking right away. Everything had to be fact-checked by a particular deadline (deadlines are HUGE in publication), or else it would potentially be cut from the magazine. If you’re not familiar with what fact-checking is exactly, it’s picking up the phone and talking to the individual who stated a quote, and verifying if he or she stated it through paraphrasing (you never read off the quote verbatim). It’s also perusing the internet to confirm addresses and names of places. I remember the first time I picked up the phone was to call a restaurant owner and confirm ingredients for his Blood Mary including a “pickled vegetables on a spear” for an article about pickling. My next assignments were similar and relatively easy, until I was presented with fact-checking the Cold Cases article: an article that brought 9 cold cases, from nearly 50 years ago of murders that took place in Westchester County, back to life.
I was enthralled and in awe at the information in the article I was reading: detectives’ and police chiefs’ quotes, family members’ quotes, and the very factual “this is what happened that night” recollections. I was so extremely careful and attentive to every little detail and every little word when I made these calls, as I had to be. We were talking about murders, the most sensitive events and those reliant on the very little details of things. This assignment took me a few weeks to complete (that included waiting for callbacks and leaving several messages with one individual in some cases), and when it was I was told I did an excellent, thorough job. I caught some minor and some other very important mistakes, like the number of sons and daughters one victim had, and the exact time a call was made to make a rescue.
By far my largest fact-checking project, given to me by one of the editors and which went on for the entire duration on my internship, was for the Westchester/ Hudson Valley Weddings Magazine, which Westchester Magazine publishes once a year in January. In it is an eleven page directory (imagine a table expanding the entire length of the page) filled with locations throughout Westchester and the Hudson Valley suited for having weddings. These locations are organized in labels such as Restaurants, Banquet Halls, Country Clubs, etc. The information that’s included in the table for each location is the name, address, contact number, and website; occupancy for seated and cocktail; indoor/outdoor reception area; bridal suite/changing room; overnight accommodations; and probably a few other details I’m forgetting. It was a gargantuan undertaking to call up all eleven pages worth of places, and getting all the right people to answer and verify the information. Some locations changed names, restaurants went out, and some I just simply couldn’t get in touch with. I’d get calls back from locations I couldn’t keep track of. Some managers were just plain mean. I also researched and called new places to include on the list. I kept all my little edits extremely organized and readable to my editor, so that he was quite satisfied with what I gave him before I left. If I counted correctly, I confirmed and made changes to the information of about 75 venues, with some 40 or so still left to fact-check. At times I felt so overwhelmed and discouraged when I couldn’t get in touch with the right people (or simply flipped through all the places I had left to call), but I knew I’d get through it all eventually. I had to: I was a crucial part of this department. I was the one who made sure things were right. One of my last fact-checking assignments was to call doctors’ offices and confirm information about practices and specialties for the November Top Docs issue of the magazine. This, too, took a lot of patient and attention to detail.
Throughout all my other fact-checking projects, it bid me wonder: who else would have the time to do all this if it wasn’t for me? All the editors are busy writing their own stories and attending meetings (there were always meetings, it seemed), and there were never enough hours in the office to complete things (sometimes I even felt like that). Who would catch these mistakes if it weren’t for me being one of the very last filters for the articles before they hit layout? Who else would keep information up to date from year to year, and ensure writers were being truthful in their stories? These thoughts were exactly what made my internship extremely satisfying and worthwhile in every aspect when I look back at it. In all the times I wasn’t fact-checking, it turns out I was writing my own articles and blog posts for the magazine and website. I wrote one about “crazy delicious” dogs in Westchester (who knew Dobbs Dogshouse existed, and made sushi hotdogs?) on the “Eat.Drink.Post” food blog. I wrote three blog posts (coincidentally?) about female entrepreneurs in Westchester who developed their own skin care lines, swimwear lines, and weekend thrift events on the “914Incoming” business blog. I wrote an article about a child’s theater company and all its rising stars, and the best fall reads as recommended by local bookshop owners. I came up with trivia questions about Westchester for readers to take. I attended a press conference, and took notes and got interviews from it, for an editor who couldn’t attend. I even went to the Fall Fashion photo shoot at the beautiful Hammond Museum and served as the stylist’s “right hand man” for putting all her looks together.
Perhaps I’m biased, but the Editorial Department at Westchester Magazine is truly stacked with great talent: every editor I was able to work with was so extremely knowledgeable, creative, established in voice, and willing to let me wear the “big girl shoes” I was hoping would fit. I proved my capabilities to fact-check and write in my own, unique voice to these editors so that I didn’t feel like an intern, but part of the team. On my last day, Amy said I should be extremely proud of my opportunity to intern, because the application competition was stiff. And, to be absolutely honest, I was. I marveled over seeing my very own stories online and the articles in the magazine I so very carefully fact-checked.
I suppose my work was so appreciated and valued that the department decided to reach out to me to pursue not one, but two freelance fact-checking projects last month. I was happy to accept.
Gabriella Mangino is a senior English Professional Writing major at UD. Graduating at the end of this semester, she plans to pursue her love of writing as an editor or freelance journalist. In her spare time, she writes creatively, is an editor for the Main Street Journal, and is a Writing Fellow for the Honors Program. To connect with her further, follow her Twitter, @gabbymangino, which she uses to tweet for her PR and Environmental Rhetoric courses.