Saturday, November 26, 2022

Dueling column: Football rivalry extends to student newspapers

October 18, 2018
<p>Junior safety Khari Willis (27) holds the Paul Bunyan Trophy &nbsp;after the game against Michigan on Oct. 7, 2017 at Michigan Stadium. The Spartans defeated the Wolverines, 14-10.</p>

Junior safety Khari Willis (27) holds the Paul Bunyan Trophy  after the game against Michigan on Oct. 7, 2017 at Michigan Stadium. The Spartans defeated the Wolverines, 14-10.

Photo by Jon Famurewa | The State News

Every year The State News and The Michigan Daily exchange dueling columns on the rivalry before the MSU vs. U-M football game. Read this year’s columns from State News football reporter Jonathan LeBlanc and Michigan Daily managing sports editor and football reporter Mike Persak.

Jonathan LeBlanc, The State News senior football reporter

I could start the annual dueling column with the usual lead.

You know, talk about how The State News is like the witty, lovable Jim Halpert from “The Office,” while The Michigan Daily is the forgettable and hated Toby Flenderson. 

Or how The State News is the badass Leslie Knope from “Parks and Recreation,” while The Daily is like Jerry Gergich — the butt of everyone’s jokes.

Like how Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is 1-5 against MSU and Ohio State University  in his three and a half years in Ann Arbor, compared to MSU coach Mark Dantonio’s 3-3 in that same timespan. The lone win for U-M came against a 3-9 2016 season MSU fans, players and coaches try to forget. The Wolverines only won 32-23. In other words, not good.

For the record, I’m a U-M fan. I grew up in Dexter and had heart surgery at Mott’s Children Hospital when I was six days old. As I like to say when people ask why I went to MSU, but keep my allegiance to the maize-and-blue: “Read the column.”

And yes, John Beilein took Michigan basketball to the national level and succeeded, taking his team to the 2013 and 2018 national championship games — which is two more than Tom Izzo’s Spartans this decade.

But as often as this can be a classic, child-like shouting match about athletics, Mike Hart’s “little brother” comment, which took on a life of its own and any other small thing fans and alumni of the two schools choose to fight about — it’s nothing compared to the Daily-State News game.

Which, quite honestly, I couldn’t care less about. It’s a pre-teen drama show, with people who shouldn’t be playing football, playing football. 

But, what I did take notice of was something Kevin Santo wrote in his dueling column last year, when talking about the Daily being better than The State News. It read, “I don’t think I’m better than you. But I know my newspaper — on a football field and in every journalistic sense — is.”

When I read that, I actually laughed out loud. 

Especially with the news happening at MSU.

We covered Larry Nassar’s sentencing in Ingham and Eaton counties. Our editorial called for then-President Lou Anna K. Simon to resign, news of which we broke six days later.

I was in those editorial meetings as the sports editor, during a semester which will go down as possibly the most controversial, scandal-ridden semester in the history of MSU. 

Our coverage of Nassar was picked up by national outlets, like when CNN reporter Jake Tapper promoted our work and when the New York Times ran our pictures.

A semester which saw then-athletic director Mark Hollis resign two days after Simon, and before ESPN’s “Outside The Lines” released a report on a sexual-assault culture within the football and men’s basketball programs, which an NCAA investigation debunked. The semester also saw former governor John Engler being named the interim president.

While Trustee Brian Mosallam took some action in trying to gain the trust of MSU community, the rest of them have not. 

And that was just January.

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It didn’t include Engler naming Bill Beekman interim athletic director in early February, then making him full-time athletic director mid-July, against prior promises. Or survivor Kaylee Lorincz who accused Engler of meeting with her without her lawyer present to try and buy her out of her civil suit against the university. She said Engler told her there was a similar meeting with fellow survivor Rachael Denhollander and she had taken the settlement, which Denhollander denied.

It didn’t include white nationalist Richard Spencer coming to campus — during spring break no less — or the arraignment and arrest of former dean of the MSU College of Osteopathic Medicine William Strampel.

We were the only news organization to publish a copy of the original teal MSU Alumni Magazine in August.

We covered every presidential search input session since they started with more detail than any other news organization.

And we are nominated as a Pacemaker finalist for our website and paper.

So when I hear any of you say you’re better journalistically than us, I laugh. You send four reporters to a hockey game. Like honestly, how many good stories can you get out of one college hockey game, and what’s the chance more than five people are going to read them?

Just have your little fun, winning a little football game that nobody outside of the Daily and its alumni, and The State News and its alumni, care about. 

I’m focused on the actual journalism — in which we’re leaps and bounds beyond you.

And this is coming from a U-M fan.

Mike Persak, The Michigan Daily managing sports editor and football reporter

It is a hard year to write this column. 

Any other year, I’d make fun of The State News for cutting production or their shrinking staff or their journalism school, which has somehow failed to improve the content of the school paper.

However, in the last year, I will say The State News has done a commendable job reporting and breaking news on the decades of wrongdoings from the University administration and athletic department in East Lansing.

So when I went to The State News’ website for fodder, I wasn’t sure I was going to find any. 

The State News is like a polluted lake, though, in that the worst stuff will rise to the top.

I’m talking, of course, about the sports section, which still lags behind the standard mentioned previously. 

Take, for example, the game story from last Saturday, when the Spartans’ football team secured their biggest win of the season, upsetting Penn State on the road. 

First of all, The State News used a picture of a random Michigan State fan waving as the lead photo, which is an odd choice. 

The story’s actual lead?

“Brian Lewerke linked up with Felton Davis III for a 25-yard touchdown pass on third-and-3 with 19 seconds remaining, and Michigan State (4-2, 2-1 B1G) came back to defeat No. 8 Penn State (4-2, 1-2 B1G), 21-17. The Spartans were a two-touchdown underdog, but made the clutch stops and passes when it mattered most.” 

Normally, I’d close the tab on my computer, given that I found out all I needed to know about this game in the first paragraph.

I trudged on, though, because a fellow student paper deserves the benefit of the doubt, right? Maybe I’d find some quality writing underneath that gripping lead.


The rest of the story is a weird, chronological summary of the game that includes some words without spaces in-between, a quote without quotation marks and commas just tossed about randomly.

Six of the 27 paragraphs in the story start with “The Spartans,” including the kicker: “The Spartans will now gear up for an in-state rivalry matchup against the University of Michigan next Saturday at noon inside Spartan Stadium.”

Thrilling stuff for a thrilling game. I’d rather watch the last 10 years of “300”-themed pump-up videos that constantly re-surface on YouTube.

But they can’t all be like that, right? The State News has some very accomplished alumni! Surely there must be talent left on that sports desk.

How about another football story on trick plays?

“Throughout Mark Dantonio’s tenure as head coach of Michigan State's football team, he has acquired a reputation for gutsy calls; Trick plays, fake kicks and a wry smile afterwards. Saturday afternoon at Beaver Stadium, in front of more than 106,000 hostile fans, Dantonio’s guts were on full display, for better and for worse.”

Crowd lead: Check. (Side Note: “Dantonio’s guts were on full display?” Really? Just wear your Michigan State gear in the press box already.)

Needlessly-wordy leads also get a check, but I don’t have enough space to copy-and-paste those.

I found three stories written in the past two months with weather leads, and one lead says Michigan State “nodded” up its record at 3-3.

Doesn’t The State News have people whose only job is to edit?

To be honest, there was a time I didn’t think I would have to do investigation for a column. After last year’s 8-1 victory, our 13th-straight win, I considered the possibility The State News might not want to play again this year. It was like when you forget to let your little brother get the lead in a game of basketball. 

Maybe we just killed your spirit, even if your rotten carcass is going to take the field again Friday. A quick Twitter search of “#BeatTheDaily” yields just four results since January, and one of them is a sarcastic comment from a Daily alum. Inspiring...?

Like I said, though, when I realized I would have to write this column, I honestly considered how hard it might be. When important, national news broke, you, The State News, answered the call. That can’t be forgotten.

But the entire paper clearly hasn’t followed that example, and since you apparently want to play again this year, somebody had to write the column.

I like to think of it as a lesson. Maybe you’ll read this and finally learn how to write a lead. Maybe you’ll realize the futility of The State News continuing to play our annual touch football game. 

Maybe when we beat you for number 14, you’ll finally give up and let us put you out of your misery.


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