Wednesday, April 14, 2021

State News centennial

After serving the student population for 100 years, The State News reflects on pivotal moments of its long history

March 5, 2009

The State News serves more than 60,000 readers every day with information through the newspaper and statenews.com. Here’s a look behind the scenes at how several hundred students work together each day to publish The State News for the MSU community.

Photo by Kristen Daum | The State News

Eighteen U.S. presidents.

Seven wars.

Two men’s basketball national championships.

One hundred years.

The countless events that have changed the outcome of history during the past century have all crossed the pages of MSU’s student-run newspaper, The State News. Over the years it has changed names and locations and covered the happiest and most heart-wrenching of times.

But from the beginning, the mission has remained the same — to deliver the news that affects the MSU community.

The beginning

The State News was first published on March 10, 1909 as The Holcad, named after an ancient Greek ship that delivered news. In 1925, the name changed and the paper became the Michigan State News — the same year Michigan Agricultural College became Michigan State College. It began daily publication in 1942, and 29 years later became independent from the university.

No amount of history lessons can fully describe The State News. Yes, it is a newspaper — at times loved and hated by its readership — but it is more than newsprint and a Web site. It’s an organization of students that come together to keep fellow students informed, to polish their professional skills and to exercise the freedoms granted to American citizens by the First Amendment.

Those best equipped to tell the real history of The State News exist behind the pages and the archives — those still in the newsroom on East Grand River Avenue and those who have moved on to careers as varied as the stories they have reported.

Girls in the boys club

It was 1943 and World War II was in full swing, bringing a host of long-lasting impacts with it. In the basement of the Union Annex building, a different change had taken place — women filled the newsroom instead of men, who had been sent off to war.

It was then that Neva Ackerman-Moyer became the first female managing editor of The State News. A few years earlier, Ola Gelzer had made State News history by becoming the first female editor.

“Before, the women didn’t have any kind of newspaper jobs, except society, fashion or foods — no news and certainly no management,” Ackerman-Moyer said. “So during the war when women got to do some of those jobs they showed that they could.”

The female staff not only kept the paper running through reporting, but also put out the D-Day extra. It was an event that had been planned for months and came to fruition in the early hours of June 6, 1944. The paper was off the presses by 5 a.m. and the staff rapidly dispersed throughout East Lansing, dropping papers off and calling out the news.

Even after the men returned from war, women were still more prevalent in the newsroom then they had been before the war, Ackerman-Moyer said.

“After that women had their chance — not that we were great — we proved that we could do it. It was called a boys’ game,” she said. “Now it seems pretty prehistoric with the way things are now, but we managed and we proved that we could do it.”

Halfway there

In order for there to be a 100th edition of the paper, there had to be a 50th. On March 10, 1959, The State News printed an edition marking the half-century of reporting. Incidentally, it also was the first edition to use color. Due to some issues with newly acquired printing presses, the paper didn’t get out until about noon, but it still got out, said the anniversary edition writer Larry Gustin, at that time a last-term senior at MSU.

Gustin arrived at MSU in the fall of 1955. After attending a gathering at The State News, he decided to join the staff. Throughout his time at The State News he experienced several “high points,” like covering a press conference when former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt came to campus.

“I think it was the camaraderie of the people I knew,” Gustin said. “Just being part of that whole operation and working with the press people. There’s nothing like the newspaper business.”

Standing up

It was 1965 when Jim Sterba, then the campus editor, and three other editors of The State News resigned in protest.

He made his decision after the editor in chief decided not to run a story about a student who was denied readmission into MSU due to political activities he had allegedly been a part of. This was when The State News was still subsidized by the university, and the decision was made after the paper’s general manager convinced the editor of the possible detrimental effects of running the story. The University of Michigan’s student newspaper, The Michigan Daily, ran a story about the editors’ resignation and sent extra copies to MSU so students and residents of East Lansing could read about the dispute over censorship.

The news general manager attempted to get the four editors to stay.

“He said ‘You won’t get a free trip to the Rose Bowl’,” Sterba said. “That year all the editors got to go to the Rose Bowl, and of course we were standing on these high journalist principles.”

A big shift

James Spaniolo came to MSU in 1964. During his time at The State News, he along with the rest of MSU, rode the tumultuous wave of Vietnam, the civil rights movement, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy and a conflict over MSU’s tuition.

“It was a time of great transition in the country as well as the university,” Spaniolo said. “Student life and culture and the dynamics — the university was quite different in 1964 and 1968.”

Spaniolo was at dinner at Coral Gables restaurant with his executive editor the night King was assassinated.

“As soon as we heard the news we returned to the office, tore up the front page and redid the whole page one and devoted as much as we could, relying on wire service stories primarily to report the assassination,” he said.

The assassination was followed by marches on campus and a sit-in in Linton Hall, the former administration building.

“A lot of students just didn’t know what was going to happen next — you had Vietnam, the King assassination, presidential primaries going on, and in June, Bobby Kennedy, one of the leading candidates for the president was assassinated,” he said. “It was traumatic for the whole country but had impact on those of us who were students at the time, it was a time of real uncertainty and worry.”

Out of the blue

Like many other students, Mary Sell was in class that morning in September 2001. She remembers the planes hitting the towers and she remembers the newsroom.

“I remember walking in and there was a group of editors and a group of reporters like ‘All right, this is what we’re going to do,’” Sell said. “It was definitely a defining moment.”

Sell and the staff worked with the advertising department to clear pages for additional coverage and sent reporters around campus to cover the reaction.

“It was an emotional day for everybody — I cried in the newsroom, because for a little bit we didn’t know where a former State Newser who happened to be my best friend who was living in New York was,” she said.

The coverage continued for weeks after, following events around campus as well as reporting national coverage.

“It never had the mentality of being a student newspaper,” Sell said. “It’s a daily publication. It’s never just ‘We’re just students.’”

Going to war

“In the worst of times, there is the best of journalism,” said Kevin Hardy, 2003 editor in chief of The State News. It was during his time as editor that the U.S. invaded Iraq.

The staff had been preparing for the news for weeks, taking its cues from wire reports from Washington, D.C. They didn’t know that the U.S. would declare war, only that the deadline was approaching.

The impression was that the war would be over in a matter of weeks.

“The idea that we’re still talking about it blows me away,” Hardy said.

To many State News employees, including Hardy, The State News isn’t just about news like the war.

“I think the real story for me isn’t the stuff that I covered, the one thing I hope to reflect is what goes on behind the scenes,” Hardy said. “My favorite memories aren’t things that I covered, but the bonds, the friendships and basically molding into journalists together that I cherish the most.”

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