The Orion

From Twin Cities to City of Trees

by Lauren Fusco

The Orion’s reputation drew Mark Plenke in long before he became its adviser.

Plenke is one of two new staff members in the Department of Journalism and PR, or J&PR, and is the department’s most recent professional-in-residence. He brings approximately 18 years of experience advising college newspapers to Chico State.

His history of professional experience not only qualifies him for the job but also tells the story of how he came to Chico.

The Road to Becoming a Journalist

Plenke first became interested in journalism his freshman year at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, Minn., he said. He walked into the campus newspaper office and asked what it would take to write for the university’s paper.

“So they asked me if I had a pulse, and I said, ‘Yeah,’” Plenke said. His response landed him a spot on the newspaper staff.

After writing for the school newspaper, Plenke went on to work for six professional newspapers, most of them in Minnesota, and one major-market television station, he said. His professional experience led him to a second career as a teacher.

From Minneapolis, Minn. to Chico, Calif.

After receiving his Master of Arts in journalism and mass communication at the University of Minnesota, Plenke decided to head back to the classroom and began instructing journalism courses in 1985 and advising campus newspapers in the early ’90s.

It was the return from his sabbatical in fall 2011 when the idea of instructing at another campus came to mind, Plenke said.

“Maybe those round-number anniversaries make you start thinking, ‘What else do you want to do with your life?’” Plenke said.

The respect The Orion had from the Chico State community was a determining factor in Plenke’s decision to relocate, he said. On a visit to Chico, he was impressed by the beauty of the Chico State campus and the significant role it played in the community.

Likewise, students seemed to like Plenke from the start. Kacey Gardner, editor-in-chief of The Orion for the 2012 fall semester, appreciated his experience and knowledge of what a good campus newspaper is, she said.

“I thought he was a great candidate for the job, and I felt confident that I would be happy having him as an adviser,” Gardner said.

Plenke thinks journalism students should work on a campus newspaper because it is “experiential learning,” which is a must for the industry, he said. New writers will gain a lot of experience, which will help them out in the professional world.

Plenke teaches JOUR 321, “Public Affairs Reporting,” and JOUR 327, “News Editing and Copy Reading.” The upper-division classes are a change from his time in Minnesota, where he mostly taught at community colleges.

“Students in the Journalism and PR program at Chico State are invested in their classes,” Plenke said. “They come to class and pay attention, as soon as class starts.”

The Orion

Plenke thinks of himself as a “coach,” not just an adviser, he said. He is dedicated to helping each staff member become better.

“In the classroom, it’s Mr. Plenke,” he said. “At The Orion, it was just a given that the staff called me Mark.”

The relaxed etiquette doesn’t translate to a soft work environment, however.

“He’s hard on us but not too hard,” Gardner said. “He encourages us to be better and commends us when we do well.”

Plenke started writing a daily blog at the beginning of the fall 2012 semester titled Eye On The Orion. The blog focuses on The Orion staff’s effort into moving the newspaper to “digital first.”

Digital first is a method of reporting online first, right as it happens, then putting the news to print later. The Orion will be using every social media outlet possible to create a digital news experience for its readers, Plenke said.

Plenke understands the push for online news, but he thinks a print version of The Orion will always be available on campus, he said.