The state of North Dakota’s population, compared to that New York City’s is staggering. North Dakota is a state of around six to 700,000 residents, and New York City is estimated to have more than 8 million residents.
One would think that a student journalist, who regularly interviews blue collar and white collar workers in North Dakota, would be able to find someone to interview in a city that has over tenfold the people. But this has not been the case.
In North Dakota, it is difficult to find someone who refuses to talk to a journalist, whether it be a television journalist, a newspaper journalist or a radio journalist. If for some reason, a person doesn’t want to talk, or if they can’t say something on the record, they will almost always make sure to find somebody who can.
While acting as Editor-in-Chief of The Mystician, the student newspaper at Bismarck State College in North Dakota, hardly anyone has refused a questioned when asked. The faculty and staff are always more than willing to speak with the student publication, and the same goes for the president and deans of BSC.
In January, when calling to set up an interview with the chancellor of the North Dakota University System at the Capitol, his secretary said: “The Chancellor could come to BSC if you would like.”
The next week, running on three hours of sleep, right after flying home from a conference, the chancellor came to the Editors’ Office for an interview that lasted over an hour.
This is a prime example of the extent North Dakotans are willing to go, especially for their students.
This willingness shown in the Peace Garden State hasn’t been the case in the Big Apple. After taking on the challenge of writing a story in the “Iron Reporter” competition at the College Media Association conference (CMA), idea after idea has ended in failure.
The students who participated in the competition had a little over 24 hours to produce a story with the following theme: Labor and the city; the thousandsof workers who work behind the scenes.
Idea number one was to write about Lindsey Ellefson, Bismarck, N.D. native, and BSC alumna, who moved to New York City eight years ago. Ellefson works at a cable news network and is having a successful career.
The story was going to cover her journey from North Dakota to New York, her role with the network, how she got to where she’s at and so on. Nevertheless, something that would have been so simple and successful in North Dakota, didn’t pan out.
Ellefson said her Public Relations office had to approve her comments before she could send them to run in a story.
“I’m sorry for the extra step,” Ellefson said. “We aren’t allowed to answer any questions publicly in any way.”
This wouldn’t have necessarily been a problem, except the deadline was only a day, and the chances of hearing back in a day are slim to none.
Ellefson agreed saying: There’s probably no chance in hearing back from them by tomorrow.
Idea number two was to interview a worker in a pizza shop along Broadway, about his life journey and what it’s like to work in New York. The thought was that this option may be more successful because it’s a smaller business, but that was not the case.
The worker said he wasn’t allowed to talk. He did, however, give his boss’s phone number and said to give him a try. Then, after calling the number, to no avail, it was on to idea number three.
This idea was to interview some of the people wearing costumes in Times Square. However, in the process of trying to stay true to the rules of journalism, this idea was out when they wanted money to talk.
Idea number four was to interview street vendors, but when asked if they would be willing to comment, they all said no.
Idea number five or the last resort option, was to interview two people from New York who know me. The first attempt was Jonathon, who owns and operates Barry’s Electronics. However, the door man at the tower where this store is located said that Jonathon is on vacation.
The second attempt was Yulia Afonina, originally from Ukraine. Last spring, Afonina made a trip to North Dakota to visit the BSC students she met last winter while they were in New York. However, her response was similar to all the others.
“I can tell you some information, but I can’t really say much,” Afonina said.
Coming from rural America, where the public and workers are almost always willing to comment, it seemed odd to witness people staying tight lipped, especially when it’s about their personal lives.
It almost seems as if the workers in New York City don’t really have a voice to speak.
Photo Cutline: A view of Times Square representing the thousands of people it takes behind the scenes to keep the city alive. Photograph by Hunter Andes.