Published: Sept. 13, 2018

By Stephanie Cook (MJour'18)
Photo above by Roxann Elliott (MJour'16) and on the right by Glenn Asakawa (Jour'86)

Who’s the best person to run a student newsroom?

Photo of Chuck PlunkettShould it be a visionary with an eye toward new storytelling models, or a purist bent on tradition? Should it be someone with a national perspective, or someone with local community ties?

In today’s dynamic media landscape, the answer is simple: Yes.

Chuck Plunkett, the new director of CMCI’s investigative student news program CU News Corps, knows the real-world challenges of working for a major newspaper. After all, he just came from one.

The former Denver Post editorial page editor has more than 20 years of experience in state and regional newsrooms contributing investigative reporting and coverage of local and national politics, public policy and breaking news.

He resigned from the newspaper in April, after producing an editorial package that criticized the Post’s corporate owners, Alden Global Capital, for a string of layoffs and resignations that put a stranglehold on the paper’s editors and reporters. Now, he’s focused on training future journalists in the art of fact finding and keeping the public informed about important issues of the day.  

“I loved working in newsrooms, and I didn't want to leave them. But it is also true that, before I started my career in journalism, I hoped to find myself teaching in university classrooms,” Plunkett says.

As director of CU News Corps, Plunkett will be the primary coordinator for the investigative news outlet, which journalism students take for course credit.

 The CU News Corps program offers incredible opportunities to help train the next generation of journalists and maintain that connection to the profession that has defined my adult life.”
Chuck Plunkett, CU News Corps Director

News Corps students provide package-driven, long-form journalism to several of Colorado’s top professional media organizations on key state issues. In recent years, they’ve partnered with The Denver Post, as well as 9News Denver, Colorado Public Television, Public News Service and other outlets.

Each semester, News Corps students focus stories around a central theme. Previous topics include immigration, crime and political fact checking—all of which Plunkett has reported on extensively throughout his career. In 2008, he was the Post’s lead writer covering Denver’s preparation for and hosting of the Democratic National Convention. Later, he was part of the team of Denver Post reporters who won a Pulitzer Prize in 2013 for breaking news coverage of the Aurora movie theater shooting.

“Chuck had just the right character to be the conscience of our community as he brought out diverse viewpoints on all the issues of our time,” says Dean Singleton, who owned The Denver Post from 1987 to 2013. “CU students will be incredibly lucky to have access to his vast experience and knowledge as they prepare for an exciting future in covering news.”

CU News Corps began in 2012 as a small team of students reporting on breaking news and partnering with local media. It is supported by Bill and Kathy Scripps, who established a $2.5 million endowment in 2017.

Starting in the fall, the CU News Corps course will serve as the required capstone course for all entering journalism students. It will eventually enroll 60 to 70 students per semester.

While Plunkett joins the program with an industry perspective, this won’t be his first time working with students. In 2014, he created and taught a pilot program at the University of Denver called “Fact Lab” that worked with upper-level students to fact check political messaging in campaign ads for the 2014 election season. The Denver Post published the students’ work on its politics blog, The Spot, and excerpts in its paper editions.

In August, The National Press Club Board of Governors announced that Plunkett would receive a 2018 John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award for producing the six-page editorial section of the Denver Post that was critical of the newspaper’s ownership.

According to the organization, the award “is given each year to both domestic and international recipients who courageously manifest the principles of free expression and transparency.”

As the director of CU News Corps, Plunkett will work to pass on these principles of the trade to his students.

“Over the years I've often thought longingly about returning to the academy and its mission,” he says. “The CU News Corps program offers incredible opportunities to help train the next generation of journalists and maintain that connection to the profession that has defined my adult life.”