Topographic Maps: A Journalist’s Best Friend

A few days ago, I wrote a story about a chemical spill for The Journal News. As someone was delivering chlorine to a pool, a valve on the delivery truck started leaking, causing the chlorine to eventually seep into a brook. Fish were killed too, and a park had to be evacuated.

But what brook was it?As one of my sources said, it’s the “Narashan Brook.”“Don’t ask me to spell that for you,” he added.Immediately, I searched Google and looked through my paper’s stylebook to no luck. I then realized that the copy desk probably won’t know how to spell it, either.After all, relatively minor geographic features like a small, meandering brook are not household names.I then decided to look it up on a topographic map, which can be downloaded as PDFs for free.In a search that didn’t even take me five minutes, I came across the correct spelling: Nauraushaun.I highly recommend all journalists like me try to “cq” the spelling of an obscure geographic feature against a topographic map — because it’d be hard to find the spelling otherwise!

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