Saturday, 23 December 2006

Reluctant tabloid

The Merriam-Webster dictionary's definition of "tabloid":

. . . of, relating to, or resembling tabloids; especially : featuring stories of violence, crime, or scandal presented in a sensational manner

. . . a newspaper that is about half the page size of an ordinary newspaper and that contains news in condensed form and much photographic matter

In a nutshell, the Toronto Sun did cover most of those definition bases in the first 25 years or so, but under Quebecor, it has become more of a broadsheet in a tabloid format. Quebecor is, incredulously, abandoning a phenomenally successful tabloid formula.

Let's see now, you own a newspaper that is making big money from faithful readers and advertisers, so you eliminate dozens of key people and start messing with a proven tabloid formula?

And now that the successful Sun formula has been all but abandoned and you have a bare bones newsroom, you wonder why the daily and Sunday Sun circulation figures are plummeting?

Don't put all of the blame on free newspapers and the Internet. Loyal readers drawn to the Sun during the 1970's and 1980's would be the Sun's forever if it remained the tabloid they knew and loved. They want their Sun, not just another Toronto newspaper.

Which brings us back to Merriam-Webster for a definition Check List:

The Sun, from Day One, did corner the Toronto market in sensational violence and crime reporting, with a scandal or two along the way. Not so much today.

The Sun, thanks to city editors instructing reporters to write "tight and bright," did contain "news in condensed form" into the 1990's. Definitely not today.

The Sun, staffed by a team of award-winning photographers, did provide "much photographic matter" over the years. Few award-winning photos today.

From a timid start as a tabloid in 1971, the Sun did threaten at times to become a true, British-style tabloid newspaper.

British tabs love their SUNshine Girl equivalents topless. Toronto Sun photogs knew they couldn't get topless photos published, but how close they came in the early years.

When a couple of former British tab editors hired by the Sun did push the envelope with front page photos in the 1970's and 1980's, they got their wrists slapped.

The consensus was Toronto The Good (including advertisers) wouldn't accept "true tabloid" photographs. There has always been a clash of broadsheet versus tabloid minds at the Sun, but the tabloid content that was visible, kept the readers satisfied and loyal.

For irony, the front page photograph that sparked a record number of calls and written complaints had nothing to do with a scantily clad SUNshine Girl, a violent car crash, a murder scene or a war atrocity. It was a photo of a dog trapped beneath a Toronto streetcar.

The dog died and readers wondered how the Sun could be so cruel in publishing a photo of the trapped animal. (There was nary a phone call or letter to the Sun after it published a photo of a soldier in some distant countr carrying a severed human head. )

A close second for reader reaction was a front page photo of a man impaled by a pole in a freak highway accident. The man was sitting on a guard rail with the pole completely through his stomach waiting for an ambulance. Empathetic readers were relieved to learn he made a full recovery.

Classic Sun front pages have covered all avenues - Andy Donato's editorial cartoons, sports events, spectacular car crashes, celebrity deaths, world events etc.

Most of the award-winning Sun photographers and editors have departed for various reasons, leaving the Sun photo desk, now headed by multi-talented Len Fortune, with a skeleton staff.

But the talented photographers and editors who have departed left a legacy of memorable front pages.

We will post classic front pages as we get them. (To comment on this blog or to submit classic front pages, e-mail us.)

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