By Nick Grasso
At 11 on a Sunday morning, I walked a mile down Main Street in Center Moriches searching for interesting characters and places. Center Moriches is a 10-minute drive from my house in Shirley, but I had not made that drive often before starting my internship at GreaterMoriches.com, a local news website.
Carl Corry, my editor at Greater Moriches, had told me to go into town and come up with three story ideas. After nearly three hours, I had only two, but they were solid. One of them became my favorite piece I wrote during my internship.
The first place I walked into that sunny September morning was Pallets & Pickets, which sells handmade wooden creations, from cutting boards to fireplaces, from flags to a table made of 160-year-old floor joints. Cyndi Dwyer, who owned the shop along with her husband, Dennis, told me she had set up shop on Main Street the previous October. I was intrigued. A business’ first year is a trial by fire, and COVID-19 closed her doors after they were open for only four-and-a-half months.
I left the shop and started walking east, passing storefronts and dog-walkers, when it hit me. I went back to Dwyer’s shop to ask her about other shops around town. Who else faced this economic shutdown before their store’s paper anniversary? She told me about Katie at AJ Sunflower Boutique two doors to her left, and Tova at Gavin’s Treasures 500 feet to her right. The resulting trend piece compared their beginnings, struggles and digital endeavors under lockdown and how they stand today.
I am proud of this piece because it felt entirely my own. I didn’t hear about an event happening in town, I wasn’t asked by Carl to talk to anyone about anything. I stumbled upon interesting people and told their stories.
Whenever I pitched my own story ideas, Carl was receptive. We spoke on the phone once or twice a week to discuss stories, and he set up Zoom meetings every now and then to check in on how I was doing and discuss bigger pieces. I wish I had had more experience and more confidence pitching stories before this internship, but I’m leaving it with both.
For anyone looking to apply, know that you will not have to produce pitches on a daily or weekly basis, but you should be prepared to do so. In the beginning, I was asked to come up with story ideas, I think to see how invested I was in the community and to test my ability to find a story, especially at a time when large gatherings and events were few and far between.
Carl would ask questions about pitches, and I never felt ready to answer. I would fumble through the pile of Post-It notes that littered my desk while pressing my phone to my ear with my shoulder, hoping Carl could not tell I was scrambling. As time went on, I felt more confident about pitches. There were times when I thought I had a strong pitch, but Carl felt my idea lacked a clear focus. He was always constructive in these situations and helped me nurture ramblings into mature ideas. Anyone considering this internship should know their ideas will be heard. Even if they only have fragments of a story idea, Carl will listen and help them find a direction to take.
As I mentioned, pitching is not necessary on a regular basis. A lot of my days began with an email from Carl containing forwarded press releases from elected officials, school districts and community figures about local events, new restaurants and even what the Girl Scouts were up to. With these stories – which I did not particularly enjoy – I essentially reworded the information and reached out to one or two key players to verify it and get a schmaltzy quote to use as a kicker.
I got a ton of interviewing experience during this internship, both in person and over the phone. When I started out, I had reservations about walking up to a total stranger and asking for information. I was also conscious about making my way through a crowd for photographs. At protests, for instance, I always felt like I was being rude or distracting, weaving through spectators to get mere feet away from a speaker just for a photo. Carl told me on many occasions that I need to be more confident. While I have not yet stopped disparaging my writing, I can say that I am a more confident reporter now than I was four months ago. I no longer care about walking right up to people to talk. It may be cliché, but I learned firsthand that the worst thing someone can say when you ask to talk to them is “no.”