Towering over the students on a table in the middle of a classroom, Matthew LaPlante, a freelance writer and adjunct journalism instructor, crouched down in jeans and a t-shirt. His booming, matter-of-fact voice never deviated from its full volume as he articulated the current decline of newspaper journalism to his class.
LaPlante’s defiant streak attracted him to journalism and has served him well in his career. A closer look at LaPlante, though, shows that underneath the tough exterior lies a soft side. His facade melted when he spoke about his 4-year-old girl.
“Nothing that I think about anymore is more than a degree or two removed from my daughter,” LaPlante said with a lowered voice, weighted with sincerity.
LaPlante’s blog, mdlaplante.blogspot.com, is capped with a conspicuous statement from Bill O’Reilly – posted like a badge of honor at the top of the page – about how terrible LaPlante is. As a journalist, LaPlante never worries about being everybody’s friend.
“Most times it’s out of my hands anyway,” LaPlante said grinning.
Starting out in Freemont, California, LaPlante learned early from his father, a sports columnist, about the frailty of the newspaper reporting industry. Just two years after landing a coveted column writing about Stanford football, LaPlante’s father lost his job when the paper he worked for, the Peninsula Times Tribune, closed down.
After losing his job, LaPlante’s father warned not to invest in a dying profession, but this only made LaPlante more determined. LaPlante’s defiance served him well as a reporter, and his talent soon earned him the Society of Professional Journalists’ National Mark of Excellence Award for feature writing in 2001.
One of the best weeks of his life, LaPlante said, was seeing people all over Corvallis, Ore. read one of his articles. The town was buzzing about five-day feature story in Oregon State’s newspaper The Daily Barometer, written over the course of a year, detailing the life of a lesbian couple and how their lives changed after choosing to have children.
“Making people connect with other people and have to think about how similar we all are instead of how different we all are was really thrilling to me,” LaPlante said.
LaPlante’s passion and expertise is a great resource to his students. After nearly seven years as the national security reporter for the Salt Lake Tribune, LaPlante has shifted from a reporting-focused career to teaching.
“I’m happy to have my brain picked. More than teaching a class i think that’s my job – to be a conduit to the students,” LaPlante said.
Where are you from?
Freemont, California – home of Charlie Chapman and MC Hammer – other than that, there’s not much going on there.
Where did you get your Bachelor’s Degree?
Oregon State University
What was your favorite class while getting your undergrad?
An astronomy class I took my senior year, where I sat next to the woman that would later become my wife. We both got really bad grades, but we did complete many homework assignments of going out to look at the stars.
What motivates you to do the things you do?
Because my daughter is going to graduate into this democratic society, which is sustained by journalism, I want journalism to be strong.
What was the best movie you saw in the past year?
I don’t watch a lot of movies, but I would say that How to Train Your Dragon is the best movie I’ve seen all year.
What is your guilty pleasure?
During the winter I snowboard and during the summer I ride a motorcycle. I think those stem from an adrenaline addiction that I’m pretty convinced that I got while I was in Iraq. I also like a good scotch and a good cigar occasionally.
Where would you go if you won a trip anywhere in the world?
On the record? Anywhere my wife wants to go. Really though, I would probably use it to go do journalism somewhere.
Describe what you would consider a perfect day.
The day my daughter was born – every day since. I’ve seen way too many people with really terrible lives to think that I have anything short of the perfect day every day.
If you could share one piece of advice with all the students here on campus, what would you tell them?
Care. A very small percent of the world population gets to have a college education. I think that if more people realized how blessed they all were, they would take their education more seriously. I’m not saying you have to get good grades, or even do your homework all the time, but I’m saying you gotta care – you gotta engage.
By Jeff Jacobsen