Brian Brennan: The Evolution of Personal Interest in Journalism in Today’s Digital Landscape

Brian Brennan is an award-winning journalist, author, traveling musician, civil service worker, broadcaster, worker’s union advocate, and featured keynote speaker.

Born in postwar middle-class Dublin Ireland on October 4, 1943, Brian was faced with the classic “What do you want to be when you grow up?” question from his mother.
He had an answer ready: “I want to play piano.”
She didn’t approve.
“Nobody in Ireland plays piano for a living,” she replied.
“Then I want to be a writer,” he responded.
She wasn’t too keen on that idea either. “You should get a job in the civil service, just like your father. That’s the best career for a young man in this country.”
As it turns out, he did all 3.

He embarked on a soul crushing career in the Irish civil service mostly to please his parents, only to relocate and seek new opportunities in a place where he had no family, friends, or connections.

Immigrating to Canada in 1966 and settling in Calgary in 1974, Brennan kicked off his career in music working as a traveling musician, nightclub pianist, and church organist. After jumping between several odd jobs, Brennan became a radio news announcer which got his foot in the journalism door.

Brian spent 25 years as a staff writer for the Calgary Herald, writing featured stories and columns on the common lives of recently deceased Albertans who left a remarkable impression on the province. This column, titled Tribune, proved to be one of the most popular features in the Herald during its 7 year stint.

In 1999, Brian helped lead The Communications Energy and Paperworks Union of Canada, attempting to organize a local union and negotiate the first contract with the Calgary Herald. During the 8 month strike Brennan was one of the most active and visible members of the union’s bargaining committee. The strike ended in June 2000 with the dissolution of the union, and Brennan’s early retirement from the Herald.

The 8 month strike was an unusual labour dispute because it wasn’t about wages or vacation allowances, but about a group of journalists who wanted to be treated with respect and dignity.

This experience, along with the rapid evolution of technology in the newsroom, gave Brian unique insight into how the field of journalism functions today.

After his retirement from the Herald, Brennan became a feature storyteller on CBC Radio’s Daybreak Alberta and went on to publish 8 books of social history and biography, cementing himself as Calgary’s chief historian by documenting some of Canada’s most colorful personalities.

His own journey is chronicled in the bestselling memoir Leaving Dublin: Writing My Way from Ireland to Canada, an inside look on Brian’s upbringing in suburban Ireland, the commercial music scene in Canada during the 1960’s, and the commercial radio and newspaper scene during the last third of the 20th century.

The longest chapter of his memoir spotlights Brian’s experience during the Calgary Herald strike that broke the union and ended his 25 year stint as a staff writer. Brennan noticed a shift; journalism went from being a business with a conscience and a higher purpose to a for profit enterprise that diminished public debate.

In his role as a journalist and keynote speaker, Brennan shows how a steady decline in print advertising has forced newspapers to almost entirely eliminate print budgets in favor of a digital-first policy.

This changes the structure around deciding what content to prioritize, and how to get it to reach an audience that is increasingly getting it’s news from non-print sources.

What are the implications to government agencies, corporations, businesses or municipalities that need to get “the word” out? Brian offers a wealth of knowledge to the public relations industry and professional communicators looking for answers.

By Gordon Breault,
Executive Director, Speakers Bureau of Canada,
Dec 4th, 2016