David Climenhaga

David Climenhaga: Alberta blogger and defender of civic discourse

David Climenhaga is astounded at the readership his political blog has gained since he wrote his first post three years ago. Climenhaga’s prose is delightfully witty, always informative and never wavers from blunt or left of spectrum. It also draws a substantial audience. David Climenhaga’s Alberta Diary (www.albertadiary.ca) now gets 12,000 visits per month.

Climenhaga’s career spans 30 years and began in traditional journalism. He earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Victoria – which he says took him more than a decade to complete – a followed by a Master of Journalism from Ottawa’s Carleton University in the early 1980s. After graduation, Climenhaga worked as a senior reporter and editor for The Globe and Mail and Calgary Herald, until the latter newspaper went on strike in 1999.

Climenhaga likens journalism to the life of an intellectual wanderer.

I suppose if I was really honest with myself, I really liked being a newspaper reporter,” he says. “You get to go out every day and meet new people and do different things. You get to call your own shots and it’s almost as if all the time is your own.

Climenhaga covered city hall for the Herald, which sparked his interest in Alberta’s political landscape. He also had the opportunity to teach a course on Canadian government at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, where he was already a journalism instructor in the late 1980s.

I had to learn the material and got very engaged by Canadian government – the technical stuff,” he says. “I’m a social democrat and it’s frustrating to see conservative parties in Alberta who provide very bad government. If you poll people, you see they want a more socially responsible government, (but) their voting behavior doesn’t mimic their views.

Never short on political commentary, Climenhaga also speaks his mind about the journalism industry, which has undergone total upheaval since his days in the newsroom. He pinpoints several social and technological changes that have caused the decline of the traditional newspaper.

The quality of the work is getting worse,” he says. “You used to have to phone in your story from a pay phone and talk to the re-write – an old guy who would go through your story with you.

News organizations are also at fault. They’ve eliminated staff and contracted out work to save money, he explains. “You don’t get as good quality people anymore in journalism because it’s harder to make a good living.”

Climenhaga, like every successful blogger, is active in the realm of social media. He acknowledges its benefits – for example, it provides exposure to alternative voices – but he’s still skeptical.

I’m from Missouri about Twitter,” he says. “(Social media has) allowed people to micro-manage their news feed to their interests so they don’t get a general picture.” Such trends have prompted the collapse of civic discourse, he adds. I don’t see that there’s any easy way to put it back together… People who are not politically engaged just ignore it completely.

Not only is Climenhaga engaged in politics, but his blog’s banter draws its audience in to watch how the wheels of provincial government turn. Climenhaga didn’t return to journalism when the Herald’s strike ended in 2000. He’s currently the communications director of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE), Canada’s tenth largest union [Editor’s note: In a phone call today David informed me he has since moved to the communications officer for the United Nurses of Alberta after having been made a surprise offer he said he “had trouble refusing”).

Three years ago, Climenhaga bought a new computer. That event, combined with the fact that he never got to write a political column for a newspaper, and his attendance at one of the first social media workshops offered by Marilyn Jones at www.mediamag.ca, inspired the advent of Alberta Diary. It was barely above the radar for the first two years, he admits.

It’s engaging to me to write political essays,” he says. “I try to make a point and make it clearly. I’m not just rambling. I may be using a new medium, but I’m using it in a traditional way.

Climenhaga recognizes the different role objectivity plays in a blogger’s work compared to a journalist’s.
“Newspapers’ tradition of objectivity was really an economic decision made in the early 20th century in order to be able to use copy that was produced in one place in a variety of papers with different editorial opinions,” he explains.

I’m writing highly opinionated stuff on my blog and making a point that is quite partisan. I try to be fair and address the issues raised by other people, but I’m not writing a story that’s fair and balanced and I’m not attempting to.

His May 15, 2011 post about the Postmedia Network’s takeover of CanWest Global and its impact on the newsrooms of the Edmonton Journal and Calgary Herald is a case in point. Aside from his roles as trade union worker and blogger, Climenhaga is also an author, poet and columnist for St. Albert’s Saint City News community newspaper and for http://rabble.ca/blog/20009. Climenhaga wrote “A Poke in the Public Eye” in 1995 and says he currently has a few literary projects in mind. “An analysis of the Klein years, because I think they were a disaster,” he offers, true to form.

Climenhaga reads a variety of blogs, some he describes as off the wall. These include Edmontonian Dave Cournoyer’s blog (www.daveberta.ca), CalgaryGrit (www.calgarygrit.blogspot.com) and a blog about St. Albert, which he says he doesn’t agree with, but reads on a daily basis (www.mybirdie.ca).

by Afton Aikens for www.mediamag.ca.

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From his bio on his blog: David Climenhaga is an award-winning journalist, author, post-secondary teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at the Toronto Globe and Mail and Calgary Herald. He holds a Masters Degree in Journalism from the Carleton University School of Journalism in Ottawa. His 1995 book, A Poke in the Public Eye, explores the relationships among Canadian journalists, public relations people and politicians. He is a currently member of the St. Albert Public Library Board and president of the Aspen Foundation for Labour Education. He was chair of the community committee that organized the 2009 St. Albert Summer Special Olympic Games. He writes a regular column on politics for the Saint City News community newspaper. The opinions expressed in his blog and other journalistic and literary writing represent his own views and not those of any employer, organization, society, institution or organized religion with which he may be affiliated.