Earlier this week I wrote a print column about one of those lists that rank the various states by some random category. The one I mentioned was by WalletHub, and ranked which states were the most/least fun. North Dakota came in 40th in the nation in terms of how WalletHub is defining “fun.”
Today I got an email from a Washington D.C.-based communications manager for WalletHub who objected to the way I characterized the report. She wanted to stress to me that the reports aren’t biased:
I should note that my criticism of WalletHub’s report wasn’t based on some accusation of bias.
I don’t think WalletHub is harboring, in their corporate ranks, an anti-North Dakota animus. They’re a company in the business of getting people signed up for credit cards (which I guess you can describe, kinda sorta, as “helping people stay on top of their finances”), and they’re producing these state ranking “reports” as a way to lure content-thirsty reporters into writing articles that mention WalletHub and perhaps even link to WalletHub’s website.
It’s a marketing ploy. The claim that the “sole purpose” is “informing and educating our readers on various topics” is ridiculous on its face.
In summary, these reports are not biased. But they are very stupid.
Stupid because the criteria for these reports are arbitrary, and the analysis is shallow.
Stupid also because the companies like WalletHub (and NerdWallet and Insurify, etc., etc.) produce them as a way to market themselves, yet they have real world consequences.
In this particular instance, consider that North Dakota has been fighting a pitched battle to overcome the widespread perception that our state is boring, desolate, and frozen most of the time. While the weather is extreme, and our smaller communities aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, that impression is unfair for all of the reasons I mentioned in my column.
I’m not just talking about tourism, either. North Dakota’s economic prosperity is being held back by chronic shortages in our pool of available workers. UND economist David Flynn wrote about it today, in fact: “It obviously seems counterintuitive to think about unemployment being too low. However, when viewed as a capacity constraint on economic activity I think it starts to make more sense and represent a potentially real break on the economy and what it can do as far as growth.”
We need people to come to North Dakota and take advantage of the opportunities we have here. We need them to put down roots and enrich our communities with their culture and commerce. That’s harder when our news media is picking up what amount to spam listicles that, based on dumb metrics like fitness-centers-per-capita, conclude that North Dakota isn’t “fun.”
WalletHub should find a better way to sign people up for Visa cards.