Dander is up in Madison about a December 17 article on SBNation.com about the Dakota State University football team. Head coach Josh Anderson is unhappy with how Duara portrays his program in his exposé of the shady pay-for-play nature of NAIA football. I'll have more to say about Anderson's heartburn and Duara's thesis in a separate post, but for the moment, I'd like to critique Duara's journalistic skill and apparent cultural biases.

In his attempt to paint some cultural context for his far-flung readers, Duara, who grew up in Florida, got bad grades in J-school in Missouri, and now lives in Oregon, opens his piece by painting my hometown as Nowheresville:

The Middle of Nowhere, the very dead center, is probably somewhere on South Dakota's Country Highway 40 in Lake County. The city of Madison, pop. 6,474, birthplace of Entertainment Tonight co-host Mary Hart, is a good enough place to start looking. The town's motto is "Discover the Unexpected." That's as close to a warning as you'll get [Nigel Duara, "An Honest Game," SBNation.com, 2014.12.17].

Middle of Nowhere? Duara has apparently never driven out to interview Larry Rhoden in Union Center.

While I am glad to get an outsider's perspective that matches with my own long-standing assessment that our town marketing slogan invites ridicule, an article that opens with two glaring inaccuracies does not bode well for the writer's commitment to the truth.

  1. There is no "Country Highway 40" that runs through Madison. There is a county road designated as "40," the old pavement that runs west from Bourne Slough, turns to gravel where the old highway curves north at the old implement dealership, and continues west to the back end of Lake Herman State Park and Dirks Resort. Look at all the places on even that back road!
  2. The population of Madison, by the most recent published Census estimate, is 6,949. 6,474 was the 2010 Census count.

Duara isn't making things up when he says Madison is quiet, even on a home game day. "Madison is in a perpetual state of quiet during the harvest season," writes Duara, "when life in the Midwest should be rowdiest." Duara misses the fact that on a sunny October day, that harvest may have many people out in the fields working (which Duara saw on his way into town, men in a combine, but failed to put two and two together). I don't know what Saturday Duara visited, but he also ignored the competition of hunting season, which could draw many sportsmen away from the stadium for sport of their own. For all his striving to be an astute cultural observer, Duara seems to have been wearing blinders to some fundamental aspects of local culture.

Duara then gets personal in a way that further reinforces my impression that he wrote more of what he wanted to see than what he really saw. I don't know what to say about the journalistic credibility about a writer named Nigel Duara who says DeLon Mork is a funny name. "Unlikely" is the word Duara chooses to describe one of the most respected names in South Dakota business. Duara also sees fit to cast Mork in Fargo:

Mork owns the Dairy Queen in town, as did his father and his grandfather. He survived testicular cancer, twice. On National Blizzard Day, he outsells any DQ in the country. He busies himself around the store, fiddling with the shades or clearing counters. Customers leaving get a "see yuh!" in his heavily-accented speech from the Upper Plains. People like DeLon Mork.

A few wins and a few more close losses have him in high spirits.

"Aw jeez, dey're just turnin' it around up there, aren't dey!" he says, his perpetual smile brightening. He, perhaps more than anyone else, believes in this team and his friend, Coach Anderson [Duara, 2014.12.18].

Duara provides no phonetic transcription of anyone else's speech in this article. He certainly doesn't attempt to capture the regional flavor of the speech of California transplant Robert Johnson and his acquaintances back in exotic Palo Alto. He quotes Trojan player Cliff Marshall in standard English, with complete ending consonants and no hint of his Chicago dialect. He gives a hint of dialect from Johnson and another ineligible player, Collins Macauley, whom he catches leaving out a linking verb and an auxiliary verb in the midst of arrogant presumption against their coaches ("These the real coaches... they calling everything wrong") and using foul language.

Duara takes the one local booster who more passionately than any other can challenge Duara's desired portrait of Madison as a losing town and paints him as an ill-spoken yokel.

As Duara acknowledges, people like DeLon. I like DeLon. And DeLon's a tough enough guy that he probably doesn't care what Duara says about him. But I take it personally that, in pretense to literary wit, Nigel Duara thinks that twitting DeLon Mork, not to mention the entire town of Madison, helps advance his thesis that DSU football is part of an abusive NAIA system.

Were he to notice, Duara would likely twit my response here as small-minded, small-town defensiveness, another aspect of the dull culture that annoyed him so one sunny Saturday in October. The thing is, I agree with much of Duara wrote: Madison is not a big-league town. Dakota State University does not play big-league football. But Duara, with his simple inaccuracies and cultural bias, is not writing like a big-league journalist.

Bonus Copy Editing: Duara says Johnson has a tattoo consisting of "blueish rhombuses." I have a hard time finding a dictionary that will attest blueish as a preferred or even acceptable alternative spelling to bluish. And come on: if you love language, if you're swinging for the literary fences, you don't miss a chance to say rhombi.