About 20 years after it first became a thing, the free daily commuter newspaper will cease to exist in English Canada.
Torstar announced on Tuesday that it will cease production of its StarMetro dailies (formerly Metro) in the five cities it currently operates — Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto and Halifax. The result will be more than 120 layoffs, according to Unifor, which is using the news to demand additional government help for print media.
The closure means Canada is left with only two free daily print newspapers, both of which are in Montreal: Métro and 24 Heures. Both were once part of nationwide chains but got split up from them.
Metro operated newspapers in:
24 Hours operated in:
There were also independent efforts, particularly in Toronto:
- FYI Toronto and GTA Today, free papers launched by the Toronto Sun and Toronto Star, respectively, when the craze began in 2000.
- Dose, the Canwest free daily that lasted just over a year in five cities
- t.o.night, which tried to make an afternoon free daily a thing
Now they’re all dead.
So what about Montreal?
Montreal’s remaining free dailies have unique circumstances, but they aren’t immune from the same economic forces — a reduction in advertising revenue, an increase in expenses, as well as less attention from readers who can now spend their morning commutes checking Facebook on their phones.
Métro, formerly a Transcontinental paper, was sold along with Montreal and Quebec City community papers to Métro Média, a company owned by Michael Raffoul, an entrepreneur who owns a print media distribution company.
24 Heures, owned by Quebecor, is a de facto sister publication to the Journal de Montréal. It no longer has its own website, and its stories live on the Journal de Montréal’s site. It saves money by using stories from the Journal and TVA.
Neither newspaper has any guarantee of surviving in the long term. Quebecor could shut down 24H at any time, and few people would notice (it disappeared for a week this summer and nobody raised an eyebrow). Metro, meanwhile, is part of a larger group of newspapers that is increasingly codependent, and a shutdown there might be devastating for what’s left of the on-island community newspapers (though many of them are little more than advertising vehicles these days).
I wouldn’t be surprised if someone tries something new in Toronto. It’s a city of millions and just seems a bit odd that it wouldn’t have at least one free news daily. But maybe it’s time to acknowledge that this method of getting news hasn’t kept up with technological progress.
Which isn’t all bad. It’ll mean fewer discarded newspapers clogging up subway systems.