This blog commences its 17th year of publication today, which makes it something of an institution in Alberta political commentary.
On Christmas Eve, someone I don’t know called me “the hardest working blogger in Alberta,” which might be true, at least if you go by the number of words published.
AlbertaPolitics.ca also has a loyal following, although I don’t really have a handle on how big that following is – a certain number of people who come here regularly because they enjoy what they read and a literate, rational, knowledgeable, and mostly respectful group of regular commenters.
It was appropriate, I suppose, that one of those regular commenters sent me a link yesterday to a Boxing Day story in the Guardian headlined, “I’ll never stop blogging: it’s an itch I have to scratch – and I don’t care if it’s an outdated format.”
Perhaps my pseudonymous interlocutor thought the headline reflected my own attitudes about AlbertaPolitics.ca, previously known as Alberta Diary and St. Albert Diary – which up to a point it does. But we need, Dear Readers, to talk about that.
The author of the Guardian piece is right that one of the great things about blogs is that bloggers can write as much or as little as they like on any topic that appeals to them. It’s also one of the great disadvantages of that format, however, as it’s not easy to build a readership, and increasingly it’s a problem to keep it.
And even when a blog’s readership is respectably big, as the analytics show this blog’s is, it’s not easy to make much money from it.
The Guardian commentator, Simon Reynolds, is also right that blogs are an outdated format, and arguably this one is doubly outdated, since I try to write political columns of the sort that once up on a time appeared in newspapers, if anyone recalls what those things were.
I digress, but a novel I’ve been reading this week reminded me what I loved the most of all about newspapers: It was the smell of the ink.
“What he likes is the smell of printer’s ink on the first copy off the presses at one in the morning,” wrote Juan Gómez-Jurado (or at least his translator, Nick Caistor) of a character, “the kind of newspaper that leaves your fingers black and whose front page is a slap in the face for somebody. All the rest is public relations.”
Well, those days were fun, but they’re gone. No point mourning them, which was pretty much what I thought when I started to write this blog in 2007.
The thing is, though, not only has the newspaper business gone to hell in a handbasket, now social media is going to the same place via the same mode of transportation.
This is a serious problem for blogs like this one if they are to maintain their readership and generate a little revenue through online attention – and a little is the correct terminology when it comes to ads like the ones you see on this blog.
Can this blog turn into a viable retirement project as I thought a couple of years ago? Without changes, probably not, the way the worm is turning.
Facebook was once a key part of the business strategy for successful bloggers. No more. Pay for advertising or you’ll reach virtually no one there. Twitter was the key venue for spreading the word – before that South African billionaire renamed the place and turned it into, as the late Hunter S. Thompson said a little unfairly of the entire “profession” of journalism, “a filthy piss-ridden little hole nailed off by the building inspector.”
So don’t expect to find many readers there any more either.
A few online and print publications pick up occasional posts – I am particularly grateful to The Tyee, which nowadays runs better Alberta news and commentary from Vancouver than any daily newspaper in this province, and Alberta Views Magazine, which still puts ink on paper. They certainly draw in some new regular readers.
There are many online publications, by the way, that will happily steal copy from a regularly published blog like this – and sometimes do some pretty weird things with it. Here’s an example. The atmosphere minister? (As for that byline, please don’t send me any links, thank you very much.)
There are other social media services – but there are only so many hours in a day and I doubt Threads (@climenhaga) or Bluesky (@djclimenhaga.bsky.social) will ever deliver the number of readers Twitter once did.
There’s Substack and like subscription newsletter services – but I can’t say I’m in love with the idea of disappearing behind a paywall. That said, it would certainly be less work, although I know it would deprive some regular readers of access to my posts and me of access to advertising revenue, small is it may be. Would subscriptions make up for that? Hard to say without trying.
Meanwhile, there are inevitably costs – among them, Internet hosting, email, application subscriptions, corporate searches, occasional FOIPs, web updates, and domain names – not just to be used but to be kept out of the hands of online bad actors.
One could hound one’s readers for donations like a right-wing “news” site, I suppose, but that’s distasteful, and probably counterproductive over the long term. And like it or not, subscription services do your hounding for you.
So what to do? That remains an open question.
Nothing will change tomorrow. Or probably next year. But change may be coming just the same.
Readers’ thoughts are appreciated.
David J. Climenhaga