Bleske in charge
Popular professor takes over as chair of the Journalism Department
Chico State University professor Glen Bleske looks, acts and sounds like a college professor. Not the wacky, bowtie-and lab-coat-wearing type who teaches chemistry and wears thick, black-rimmed glasses. No. Bleske is one of those distinguishedly disheveled mentors whose interest and background lie in the literary arts.
Silver-haired and goateed, Bleske appears much younger than his 55 years. I’ve learned from talking with a few of his former students that he’s got a reputation you’d imagine every college professor tries to foster—hard but fair, a tough exterior with a genuine concern to see his pupils succeed.
After 10 years teaching journalism at CSU, Bleske was named last month to chair the Department of Journalism, replacing Katie Milo at the end of this semester. Milo has become interim vice provost for research. She will take that two-year assignment in July.
Milo, who chaired the department for 11 years, comes more from the public-relations end of communications, Bleske from the ink-stained-reporter side.
“With the size of our department, chair is a half-time administrative position,” Bleske said, meaning he will continue to teach half-time.
“It’s a big chair to fill,” Bleske said during a recent interview in the Naked Lounge coffee house. “Katie Milo has been extremely effective as the chair. She’s been with the department since the beginning, and in a lot of ways the department is shaped by her vision.
“I have very different strengths than she does, so it’s going to be interesting to see what happens. In my eyes the job is to support the faculty and give them the things they need to do the job that we’ve been doing for the past 10 years.”
Bleske said he will proceed with caution.
“The first year I’ll just look around,” he said. “When I went into my first year of management at a newspaper job, I thought I was going to change everything. I learned after three months that I was probably the least-popular person in the newsroom, except with my boss. Bosses are like that. They’ll say, ‘Yeah, go do that for a while, go bump your head against the wall.’ “
Born in Detroit, the oldest of four brothers, Bleske initially attended the University of Michigan.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” he said, “so I traveled and ended up in Florida, where a friend had been in the Navy.”
That friend was about to get out of the service. So Bleske took up residence in St. Augustine and transferred to the University of Florida, which he’d heard had a great journalism school.
There he met his wife of 22 years, Karen, who is now a freelance editor and formerly was editorial director for Moon Publications, the popular travel book publisher that moved to the Bay Area close to 10 years ago. They have no children.
“My students sometimes ask why I don’t have children,” Bleske said. “I joke that I have 100 new children every semester.”
Bleske graduated from UF with a bachelor’s in journalism in 1981. Ten years later, after working for a number of papers, Bleske got his master’s in mass communication from UF. From there he went to the University of North Carolina and in 1994 received his Ph.D. in mass communication research. That same year he came to Chico State, where he was hired into the Journalism Department.
His interest in journalism comes from deep roots.
“My whole life I’d always read two or three newspapers,” Bleske explained, sitting at a little table in the back room of the Naked Lounge. “My family got the Detroit News, the Detroit Free Press and then there was a little paper called the Oakland Tribune, which is still there. It was published in Royal Oak.”
He read the Free Press in the mornings, paying particular attention to sports columnist Joe Falls, who died last August after a 50-year career as a sports writer in Michigan.
“You had to read Joe Falls because at school you’d always talk about Joe Falls. You had to know what he was saying. I had to read the paper before my dad would take it to work.”
Bleske said he always wanted to write and, perhaps influenced by Falls, had a strong interest in covering sports. To this day he remains a die-hard Detroit Tigers fan.
“I went to Florida and did a lot of sports writing,” he said. “As a matter of fact, all the way through my career, until my last five years, I always had friends in the sports department. At big sporting events, where they needed extra people, I always tagged along to write stories and hang out with the sports guys.”
When he returned to the University of Florida, it was with the goal of eventually writing for Sports Illustrated. Toward that end, he got on with a paper called the Gator Bait.
“I covered women’s softball and men’s golf. Those were my two beats.”
This was during the early 1980s and the Reagan recession.
“When I graduated it was grim. I think there were three jobs in the whole state of Florida, which is a great newspaper state. I got a job working for a Gannett weekly in Florida called the Melbourne Times, and did everything, layout, headlines, copyedited, supervised photographers and writers, wrote three or four stories a week.”
After a few years, with an itch to write editorials, Bleske stayed within the Gannett family and transferred to a paper in Indiana, where he started as an assistant news editor before finally getting a chance to write editorials.
“I liked writing and doing the research for [editorials],” Bleske said. “Although after doing it for a while, I decided I really liked reporting.”
From there it was back to Florida and a job with the Daytona Beach News Journal, where he was an environmental writer who also wrote an occasional column called “Saw Grass and Sea Oats.”
He left the News Journal to get his master’s degree.
“I always thought I wanted to teach, and my wife’s father was a college professor, so she was very supportive.”
He came to interview for the job at Chico after earning his Ph.D., in part because of the weather.
“I decided I was pretty much a Sunbelt person and wanted to live in the Sunbelt somewhere. They had an opening here, Bob Nowell had just left the department, and they advertised nationally to replace him.”
When he interviewed, former News & Review Editor George Thurlow was the adviser for The Orion. Thurlow left the following year, to take a job as publisher of the Santa Barbara Independent.
“I was very disappointed when he resigned, because one of the reasons I chose here, besides liking Chico and seeing an opportunity here, I really wanted to work with George. He’s very charismatic, and I remember thinking, ‘Now with this guy, we’re gonna have some fun.'”
After Thurlow the paper had a part-time adviser for two years and then hired current adviser Dave Waddell.
“Dave is a great colleague and somebody I can work with. We share values. He’s a nicer guy than I am, a lot nicer. It’s almost sometimes like good cop-bad cop.”
Bleske said he is ready to take on his new role and responsibilities.
“If I’ve learned anything over the last 20 years, it’s how to be a better manager. So I’m just going to sit back and watch and listen and help people. That’s what I think is my job, to help students and faculty. We want students to graduate, and we want faculty to be successful."