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Jewett: North Dakota fascination a trending national topic

I found myself answering a lot of questions about North Dakota on a trip south last month.

No, I wasn’t trying to describe what “below-zero” feels like to Floridians while soaking up the sun on a beach. I will say my destination of Columbia, Mo., still felt tropical compared to the weather we’ve been having here.

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Instead of a vacation, I headed to the Show-Me State for a computer-assisted reporting training boot camp. It wasn’t a whole lot different from work, as I spent my days there staring at a computer screen and cursing.

The main difference was that I spent my day with a host of people who weren’t from North Dakota or Minnesota — some weren’t even native to this country.

As we chatted, it became apparent people were pretty interested in my home state.

No, seriously.

I had always thought North Dakota wasn’t perceived as a place that is interesting to talk about because people tend to think there isn’t a whole lot up here or that it’s like the Wild West. Or just part of Canada.

For instance, when I was in eighth grade, I was part of a team that headed to a national Science Olympiad competition where we met kids from all 50 states. They knew nothing about North Dakota, so it wasn’t very long before we had them convinced we still used Conestoga wagons and my friend’s family was the first in town to get a color TV.

Luckily, in the 10 years since we trolled those kids, North Dakota has gained some national attention thanks to the oil boom enveloping the state’s western half.

A few cold weather questions did sneak in, but people really wanted to know about the boom. I can honestly say I wasn’t used to talking at such great lengths about the state of the Peace Garden State.

Then, one of my fellow campers put it into perspective for me. People want to hear news from experts, aka those on the ground living day in and day out in the situation.

This sounds like a simple idea, but it was one that hadn’t sunk into this young Midwesterner’s head.

Plenty of big-city reporters have come and gone, taking the fleeting moments they spent in North Dakota and transforming them into stories.

Some of these stories contain a lot of observation but not much understanding — like someone writing about a safari experience in Africa. I’ve read stories and said to myself, “They just don’t get who we are and what we do.”

That understanding is something local reporters should and are bringing to the table. It just seems we’re not so good at the national promotion part. Chock it up to that Midwest modesty, I guess.

All of this has sparked a deeper passion in me to produce the best journalism possible for not only Grand Forks Herald readers but for anyone with interest in the state — even if they think we use covered wagons to travel between oil rigs.

I hope you’re ready to share more of your story, North Dakota, because I’m excited to tell it and the world is waiting to read it.

Jewett writes for the Grand Forks Herald, which is a part of Forum News Service. Email her at