Our reporter: “I read the dumb article so you don’t have to.”
Testing the patience of Midwesterners everywhere, a national online news outlet, Insider, decided to not only let senior reporter and self-declared New Yorker Frank Olito write a really dumb listicle about his trip to Chicago and Detroit titled “I’m a New Yorker who visited the Midwest for the first time. Here are 15 things that surprised me,” they actually decided to publish it.
Granted, Wisconsin in particular is pretty testy after an ESPN commentator on “First Take” asked, “Do you really want to be in Milwaukee? Is that where you want to be?” to which his colleague quickly replied “No.”
(Good. Who said we want you?)
But Olito’s article is part of a national trend where outsiders write about the Midwest with the same tone as colonial anthropologists writing about the tribes they were studying (and colonizing). It gave me flashbacks to James Pogue’s Harper’s article on Kenosha, where he actually wrote, “Until this magazine offered to send me there, I had never heard of it.” Yet despite obvious ignorance of all context he was the guy someone decided to pay to walk into a bar during a Packers game and write a treatise on the state of the Democratic Party among the working class. He made sure to include a quote about quirky Packers fan traditions, something I’m sure no New York sports fan knows anything about.
Olito’s article isn’t pretending to be serious journalism like Pogue’s but his report hit a nerve. First, he spent two weeks in the nation’s third and 24th largest cities, Chicago and Detroit, and decided his observations could be applied to the Midwest. Those are two distinct Midwestern cities but that’s like visiting New York and saying your observations about the noise, trash, and how expensive everything is applies to the entire eastern seaboard.
Second, it is astounding that Olito knew so little about these two great American cities to begin with. He had to fly all the way to Chicago and Detroit to realize food and drinks were cheaper than in New York? Why did he find it necessary to report that Chicago and Detroit have entertainment and culture? Why was he shocked that Chicago has traffic? Did he think he was landing in a corn field?
He wrote that, “There’s an emptiness to the Midwest that I’m not used to as a New Yorker.” Ignoring the fact that he was there during a pandemic, why are east coast journalists even comparing the Midwest to New York in the first place? Pogue makes sure to mention early on that Kenosha has about 100,000 people, but that describes the majority of cities in the United States. Kenosha, statistically speaking, is a normal American city; New York is not only an outlier, it is an extreme outlier. And among Midwestern cities, Chicago and Detroit are outliers as well.
And yet, these writers parachute in with no context, compare everything they see to their homes on the coast, and then fly off to write an article that teaches us… nothing.
Meanwhile there are writers and journalists who have lived in, studied, reported on, and written about the Midwest our entire lives. We are not wasting time being blown away by quiet streets, inexpensive meals, and oh look, we DO have fun things to do like all other humans.
So stop spending money to fly someone out to the Midwest to write articles and pay us to do that instead. You might actually learn something.