Saturday, 14 April 2007

Local is local

Michael Burke-Gaffney beamed like a proud new poppa in 1993 when paid sales of his Sunday Sun passed the 500,000 mark.

Michael, Sunday Sun editor then, managing editor now, was riding the wave when the Sun peaked in popularity among Sunday newspaper readers in Ontario.

The Sunday Sun had occasionally spiked to well beyond 500,000, including the early 1980s Toronto Blue Jays World Series editions, but in 1993, it was a firm 500,000.

A few days ago, the latest Audit Bureau of Circulations data for a 12-month period ending Sept. 30, 2006, indicated Sunday Sun circulation fell about 2 per cent from the previous year to 326,551.

Where did the almost 200,000 Sunday Sun paying customers go in a dozen years?

It is safe to say a large percentage of those readers just lost that lovin' feeling.

During the 1970s, 1980s and part of the 1990s, faithful Sun readers had that lovin' feeling because the Sun put them on a pedestal, catered to them and treated them like family. Our house was their house and they arrived in large numbers when invited.

Readers felt connected to the Sun, not estranged.

There were popular contests for all ages, with fabulous prizes; news, sports and entertainment staffers welcomed phone calls from readers; editors concentrated on local stories and photographs; there was ample staff to provide quality local content.

The knockout 1970s and 1980s Sunday Sun lineup included Max Haines, Paul Rimstead, Andy Donato, George Anthony, Mark Bonokoski, Gary Dunford etc. etc. Behind the scenes, Gord Stimmell was the Sun Television guide editor and Kathy Brooks was entertainment editor.

Male readers raved about the Page 3 SUNshine Girls, who were next door girls from our communities, not women living in B.C. and other provinces.

We had fun with the SUNshine Boys, starting in 1972, with celebrities (Rod Stewart etc.) and politicians (Peter Kormos etc.) attending photo sessions. Wasn't Sun co-founder Peter Worthington a SUNshine Boy?

Sunday Sun features were generally lighter fare, with the emphasis on local content. Devoting more than a page to any topic was a rare event. Lottery players could turn to the Sunday Sun with questions and beefs. Sports coverage was unbeatable.

Also unbeatable - the award-winning Sun photographers and a superb graphics department with Len Fortune at the helm.

In a nutshell, the Sunday Sun in those 500,000 days was packaged and published by a crack team of reporters, columnists, photographers and editors. They were loyal to management and management treated employees and readers with respect.

Almost 200,000 Sunday Sun readers have abandoned the paper. On its present course, with Quebecor cutbacks in staff and content, the freefall will surely continue.

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