Tag Archives: Toronto-Star

Torstar sold for $52 million — will entrepreneurs fix its business model?

The Toronto Star’s new prospective owners, Jordan Bitove, left, and Paul Rivett (photo: Nordstar Capital)

Since news broke late Tuesday that the Toronto Star’s parent company had agreed to a sale to a pair of investors for the equivalent of $52 million, lots of people have been looking at the political angle, convinced that either:

(a) because the new owners had made donations to Conservative parties (including Maxime Bernier’s leadership campaign), Toronto’s last left-wing paper would become a right-wing one like the rest; or

(b) because they had tipped former Ontario Liberal premier David Peterson as its vice-chair, the paper would become more entrenched as the Red Star so-liberal-its-actually-communist propaganda machine.

In reality, neither is true. In the short term, at least, the Star (and its other newspapers, the Hamilton Spectator, the Waterloo Region Record, the St. Catharines Standard, the Niagara Falls Review, the Welland Tribune, the Peterborough Examiner, Sing Tao and all of the Metroland community papers) will stay the same. The last thing a new investor wants to do is scare off a loyal customer base.

That’s not to say that political allegiances, whether real or imagined, aren’t a problem. It’s uncomfortable, not to mention demoralizing, when journalists are told they can’t participate in protests or express controversial opinions when their bosses openly donate money to political parties and/or used to work for them.

But more important than ensuring its apparent impartiality is ensuring its survival. Torstar as a whole was sold for $52 million. Its 63-cent buyout offer is a premium on its current share price, but a tiny fraction of Torstar’s value before the internet hacked away at its business model. In 2003, Torstar was worth up to $30 a share.

By comparison, Postmedia bought out the Canwest newspapers in 2010 for $1.1 billion, out of bankruptcy protection. Postmedia bought Sun Media in 2015 for $316 million. TVA bought Transcontinental’s 14 magazines for $55.5 million in 2015. Two years earlier, Quebecor sold 74 community newspapers to Transcontinental for $75 million. In 2007, Quebecor’s Sun Media bought Osprey Media (20 dailies and 34 weeklies) for $575 million.

Is Torstar really worth less than all of these? Unfortunately, yes. Because the newspaper business model has collapsed, especially over the past 15 years.

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Toronto Star rebranding Metro newspapers to form pseudo national chain

Metro is dead. Long live StarMetro.

Torstar, which owns the Toronto Star and the remaining Metro newspapers in English Canada, announced Monday that it will be rebranding the Metro papers to StarMetro and bringing them closer to the Star fold, moving their websites to thestar.com and sharing stories between the two. At the same time it is adding 20 journalists to three of the Metro newspapers — Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton.

The Star’s story on the announcement, as well as nearly identical insert-city-name-here stories in each of the Metro papers (Toronto, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Halifax), don’t give much details beyond that, but expect to see more Metro content in the Toronto Star, and more Toronto Star content in the Metro papers.

Despite the this-is-good-news nature of the announcement, there are no plans to resurrect Metro papers that have been killed recently. Metro Ottawa and Winnipeg were sold to Postmedia in November to be shut down. Metro also previously had papers in London, Regina and Saskatoon, plus digital-only editions in four other cities.

Métro Montréal, Canada’s only French-language version of the paper, is owned by Transcontinental, which has put it up for sale.

The Torstar changes take effect on April 10. At that point, the Metro app will also be shut down, and visitors to the metronews.ca websites redirected to The Star’s new pages for each city.

Different strategies as Edmonton Journal, Toronto Star launch new products

This morning, two major Canadian newspapers made big announcements about new ways of consuming their news. One, the Toronto Star, has put a lot of its eggs in the basket of a new tablet app based on La Presse+. The other, the Edmonton Journal, has redesigned its print edition, website and smartphone app based on Postmedia’s 2.0 template, but hasn’t launched a new tablet edition, unlike its Postmedia sister papers.

It’s two very different strategies toward finding new ways to connect with audiences and increase advertising revenues.

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Outsourcing returns to haunt Toronto Star employees

In January 2010, the Toronto Star and its union agreed on a plan that would allow the paper to cut jobs and save money while avoiding some more dramatic cost-cutting plans like outsourcing copy editing to an external company.

Those of us around the country who work in the copy editing field breathed a slight sigh of relief, knowing that somewhere jobs were being saved and would still be done locally. The issue appeared settled: The Toronto Star would still be produced by the Toronto Star.

Less than two years later, we seem to be back to Square One. The Star is offering another round of buyouts to cut staff even further (they won’t say by how much they want to reduce the workforce) and Reuters is reporting a rumour that the Star again wants to outsource layout and editing work.

I hope that’s just a rumour. Layout and editing is an important job in print media, and I’d hate to think that the industry is coming to a consensus that this work can be done by some kid in a third-world country with 20 minutes of training.

Toronto Star wants to outsource 78 editing jobs

The Toronto Star, Canada’s national largest newspaper, has signed a deal with page-layout outsourcing firm Pagemasters and has informed its union that it plans to outsource 78 copy editing and layout jobs to this company, which form part of 121 job cuts it plans to save millions of dollars a year.

I’ve written before about the larger issue of the outsourcing of copy editing jobs. Saying I’m against it would be transparently self-serving, but I’d like to think there’s some magic in the designing of pages, writing of headlines and editing of copy that will be missed when the job is handed over to a third party that is interested more in volume than quality.

On the other hand, I’m pessimistic that readers will care enough about how their paper is produced to speak with their wallets and tip the economic balance in favour of those workers.

UPDATE: Torstar says it has “no choice” – which of course is not true. It also says it hopes to keep the same level of quality, which is obviously not feasible.

Star redesign: I don’t hate it

After inexplicably hyping it for weeks, the Toronto Star finally unveiled its website redesign last week. I took one look at it and was unimpressed, but figured I’d return for a closer look.

Toronto Star's thestar.com

Toronto Star's thestar.com

Colour me more impressed.

I’m still not crazy about the visual design, which is filled with rounded corners, blue-grey gradients and just about every other Web 2.0 cliché in the books, but some of the functionality is worth noting.

One is the topic pages. News organizations have to get used to the fact that the Internet provides them with a different way to present information. Background doesn’t have to be repeated in every newspaper article to re-educate the reader. Instead, you can simply link to a previous article in a series, or better yet to a summary of the topic so far (kind of like what you’d see on a Wikipedia page). Many topics have short introductions followed by a list of articles on that topic. It’s simple, but very useful. The best part is the “hot topics” banner at the top of the page, which allows quick links to the big issues of the day.

Another is the timeline view, which translates as “everything published on this website, in reverse chronological order.” If you don’t know what you want to read, go here and just read whatever is new. There are other views like the “visual news” view, which presents stories as a series of pictures, but that’s only useful if all stories lend themselves to good pictures. Many don’t and are illustrated with boring file art instead, lessening the usefulness of this page.

Text in these boxes don't have enough ...

Text in these boxes don't have enough ...

More from teehan+lax, Torontoist and the Star itself.

Post wins pointless design award race

The Society for News Design has announced the winners of its annual awards.

For the uninitiated, the Society for News Design is the big newspaper design group and winning one of their awards is a badge of the highest honour for newspaper designers.

Or, at least it would be if they were more selective. The SND gives out almost a thousand awards each year, and considering there are 10,725 entries from 346 newspapers, that means that each entry has a one in ten shot of winning an award, and each newspaper should get three awards on average just for showing up.

Perhaps for that reason, the number of newspapers participating in this exercise has dropped. Notably missing from the list below is the Globe and Mail, for example.

Still, it’s seen as a penis-measuring contest, so let’s whip out those rulers. The 108 awards given to Canadian publications break down as follows:

You can seee a full list of winners by searching the database (there’s too many of them to list all on one page, after all). You’ll probably also see special pages devoted to SND wins in the above publications. Updated with links to self-laudatory stories in the four multiple-award-winning papers.

Star runs You Be The Editor quiz

The Toronto Star, still looking for some holiday filler, has produced a journalism ethics quiz which it invites readers to answer on its website. (via J-Source)

The Gazette did something similar a while back.

Editors deal on a regular basis with tough ethical decisions, and must choose between publishing something or holding it back. The Star gives some examples, at least some of which were based on actual events which were published in the paper and got complaints.

Most are unfortunately a bit too easy to answer for me.

As holiday filler for this blog a public service, here are my answers to the quiz and the explanations for them:

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Newspaper letter credibility scores one at the Star

Last month, the Toronto Star made an interesting decision concerning so-called “user-generated content”: It decided it would no longer be publishing anonymous or pseudonymous web comments on its letters-to-the-editor page. Such “reverse publishing” is being used by a lot of newspapers who want to appear all hip and cool and stuff, and are desperate to increase traffic to their horrible websites.

The main argument, which was also expressed by many people inside the Star’s newsroom (they even circulated a petition about it), is that printing these comments alongside letters to the editor essentially creates a double standard: Letters to the editor must be signed and verified if submitted by email or mail, but don’t have to be if they’re posted in an online forum.

It’s a valid argument, but it ignores the big secret about letters to the editor: The verification process for “real” letters isn’t much of a verification process at all.

Many newspapers, especially smaller ones, don’t even check that the person whose name appears at the bottom of the letter is in fact the person who wrote it. They just copy and paste from their email inbox and assume that if there’s a full name that doesn’t read “Anita Bath”, it’s probably legitimate.

Larger newspapers, like the Star, require readers to send their phone number, and an editor or secretary calls them up and verifies their name and whether they wrote the letter. There’s no exchange of ID, no looking names up in a database, just a phone call. It works mainly because very few people are going to go through that kind of trouble just to get a fake letter into the newspaper.

Still, I think the change is a good one, if only because seeing online handles like “geeko79”, “No McCain fries for John McCain” and “Fagstein” attached to grammatically-incorrect texts in a supposedly respectable newspaper looks ridiculous.

The policy change doesn’t affect the website; people will still be able to post with silly pseudonyms there, though that’s not what public editor Kathy English would have decided:

I would prefer the Star demand real names of those who comment online. I’ve been told that’s a near-impossible expectation in the online environment. I don’t buy that.

Of course, online faces the same problem. Restrict it to verified names, and you cut off most discussion and spent lots of time verifying IDs. The more moderation controls you have, the less commentary you have and the less active the forum becomes.

(via J-Source)

TorStar, Gazette plan massive layoffs

Toronto Star owner TorStar has announced it is cutting 160 jobs (of which 122 are apparently voluntary buyouts) most of which involve its Internet operation including 10 people at a redundant Internet division. No word on what they plan to replace it with, though I imagine they’ll try replacing it with outsourced work that involve either non-journalist Internet professionals or non-unionized cheap labour.

Buried in that story is an announcement from The Gazette’s union, the Montreal Newspaper Guild (of which I am a member), which says the paper is gutting its Reader Sales and Service department (the people who deal with subscriptions), replacing 46 union jobs by centralizing operations chain-wide in Winnipeg. The union is fighting the move, which it says violates a clause in the collective agreement that prohibits outsourcing jobs.

Toronto Star reaches tentative agreement

Toronto Star: No strike

The Toronto Star has reached a tentative agreement with its union after days of round-the-clock talks that went 14 hours into we-can-call-a-strike-at-any-time territory, and three days after the union’s members voted near-unanimously in favour of a strike.

No details are being released about the agreement, which must still be ratified by the union’s members. But a notice from the union suggests that a decent compromise has been reached, phasing out Sunday pay bonuses, increasing wages 2% each year and no changes to the overtime pay formula.

UPDATE (Jan. 25): The agreement has been ratified by union members, making it official. There will be no work disruption at the Star for at least another three years.

Toronto Star union votes to strike

Toronto Star: STRIKE!

A strike vote today at the Toronto Star’s union had 80% of members voting 96% in favour of a strike starting as early as Saturday. That’s when a mutual agreement between the two parties to not strike or lock out expires.

The vote represents a mandate to strike, which means that union leaders can call a strike at a moment’s notice now. Negotiations are continuing and are expected to continue until Friday, however a media blackout has been imposed on recent talks at the request of the mediator.

That means information about management demands may or may not be outdated, and only those involved in negotiations have any idea how close they are to a deal. (Much to the annoyance of union members who are in the dark, as well as reporters who have to write about the situation.)

Previously: Toronto Star edging toward strike

Updates on the situation can be found on the union’s website at wearethestar.ca.