MINOT, N.D. — A humble request made to my fellow members of the news media:
Please stop creating spam headlines for companies like WalletHub or NerdWallet.
These companies send out press releases touting “studies” or “surveys” which are usually some ranking of states or communities.
Local journalists, always hungry for content in an age where their worth is too often measured by how many clicks they generate, dutifully report on these press releases.
And thus we get headlines about which state might be the drunkest or the funnest or some other “-est” and it’s all a big canard.
What these companies want is mentions of their names in news articles, and links to their websites, so they can do things like sell us more insurance or credit cards. Their “studies” are little more shallow data analysis in service of some arbitrary criteria.
The output is inevitably a specious conclusion that one state or city is the “-est” of some eyeball-grabbing category.
At best this stuff is pablum in a media environment already overserved by it.
At worst these articles create phoney public perceptions which can do real harm, all so that a credit card broker can get a better search engine ranking.
Headlines suggesting North Dakota is ranked 40th among the states for fun, based on a “study” from WalletHub, is an example of the latter.
The “study” is nonsense, based on arbitrary metrics like per-capita measurements of restaurants and work out facilities.
Yet the headline based on the study and the harm it does to our state’s ability to attract tourism, not to mention residents to address our chronic labor shortages, is very real.
North Dakota isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. I get that. The communities are small, and the weather is extreme. If you’re looking for an urban environment, with a thriving nightlife, our state may not be for you.
But if you’re an outdoors sort? There are all manner of opportunities from hunting and fishing to hiking and rafting. Our state invests a lot in parks and recreation, spending more per-capita than any other state.
Just recently my family took a trip to see the Ronald Reagan Minuteman Missile Site near Cooperstown. It is an amazing facility, well maintained and staffed by the North Dakota Historical Society, and worth the trip.
My only complaint is that we really should be doing more to advertise it as an attraction. How many people want to see the control panels from which a part of America’s nuclear arsenal could have been unleashed?
There are so many wonderful things to see and do in our state, yet North Dakota is the butt of jokes anyway. Treated as some cold, desolate place best avoided.
That is what it is, but maybe we don’t need to help the cynics out by publishing articles which are little more than a marketing strategy hiding behind a thin veneer of research.
Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Listen to his Plain Talk Podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RobPort.