Mark Iype attends "Words Matter" event at Peter Lougheed Leadership College, University of Alberta in 2017. Photo: Peter Lougheed Leadership College/Facebook

Postmedia is now advertising for a new editor-in-chief for the Edmonton Journal and the Edmonton Sun.

It may come as something of a surprise to Edmonton readers that English Canada’s largest newspaper corporation is seeking “a dynamic, innovative journalistic leader to oversee the editorial vision and content of Postmedia’s Edmonton newsroom, which includes both the Edmonton Journal and the Edmonton Sun.”

After all, didn’t they have just such a person in Mark Iype, who was appointed to the same position barely three years ago?

“Mark is a passionate leader who cares deeply about delivering outstanding editorial content,” Lorne Motley, Postmedia’s vice-president of editorial for its Western Canadian newspapers, said in an email to staff on September 21, 2016. For the past three years, staff at the two Edmonton newspapers seemed to agree.

Iype’s appointment had an inauspicious start, immediately following the purge of three respected women editors, Journal editor-in-chief Margo Goodhand, Journal managing editor Stephanie Coombs, and Sun managing editor Donna Harker, as well as the combination of the two papers’ newsrooms into a single workplace.

But from an outsider’s perspective, he has done a good job as editor-in-chief, presiding over an editorial board that was even willing on occasion to express opinions that reflected the Edmonton community rather than the hard-right market fundamentalism which daily seems more prevalent within Postmedia. On May 24, the Journal even dared to run an editorial calling on Premier Jason Kenney’s then-new United Conservative Party government to keep the NDP’s carbon tax!

“Killing the provincial carbon tax is one political promise that will be better to break,” the editorial boldly proclaimed — no doubt to the deep dissatisfaction of Postmedia executives in Toronto and the corporation’s owners in the United States.

So what happened to Iype? That isn’t immediately clear. While his name disappeared from the Journal‘s masthead earlier this week, he is said to be still toiling for Postmedia, perhaps figuring out ways to save money on newsprint, in the Journal‘s building in downtown Edmonton. His Twitter account’s thumbnail biography, rather evocatively, now says only, “I’d rather be sailing.”

The question must be asked if the departure of Iype has anything to do with the arrival of Kevin Libin as Postmedia executive in charge of all political coverage, federal and provincial, in the pages of Postmedia’s daily newspapers and the websites that are nowadays their main presence with readers.

Libin is well known as one of Canada’s most right-wing commentators. He was founding editor of the Western Standard, the far-right magazine published by his boyhood friend Ezra Levant, who later went on to create the Rebel Media video blog.

In 2015, the British Columbia Supreme Court awarded damages of $50,000 to climate scientist Andrew Weaver, now the leader of the Green Party in the B.C. legislature, for articles published in the National Post in 2010. Libin and other writers and editors were named in Weaver’s suit. In 2017, however, the ruling was overturned on appeal and a new trial was ordered.

Libin’s appointment, a Maclean’s Magazine commentator asserted on Tuesday, “means a single voice — and an ideological one — will now oversee or directly run political coverage in a fleet of papers, many of which are not conservative papers at all, beginning in an election year.”

It’s a bit of a reach to say many Postmedia papers are not conservative at all, but the Maclean’s piece by Sarmishta Subramanian sums up the problem of having a political commissar, who once characterized opponents of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project as assassins, now organizing the political coverage by one of the country’s largest media corporations during an election campaign.

Under Iype, political reporters at Postmedia’s Edmonton papers — as opposed to the corporation’s stable of consistently right-leaning Alberta commentators — still had the freedom to cover news stories responsibly. They must now be deeply concerned about their professional futures under the leadership of an ideologue.

None of Mr. Iype, Mr. Libin, Mr. Motley, or Lucinda Chodan – the Montreal-based Postmedia editor and executive who recently informed Edmonton Journal and Sun employees of Mr. Libin’s new role in an email – responded before publication to emailed requests for comment on this story. Mr. Libin eventually did, however, several days after the story was published, referring all questions to Postmedia Communications VP Phylise Gelfand for comment.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald.This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Note: This story has been updated to reflect the fact the ruling in B.C. Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver’s defamation suit was overturned by the B.C. Court of Appeal in April 2017 and a new trial ordered, which was omitted from the original version, as well as to note that one person emailed for comment eventually responded after the story had been published. 

Photo: Peter Lougheed Leadership College/Facebook

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe...