Saturday, 27 December 2008

Call us silly

An anonymous TSF reader posted a comment today suggesting we were "silly" to call Paul Berton's comments about the state of print media "Quebecor rhetoric."

We said:

Paul Berton, editor-in-chief, writes about the new (London Free Press) Saturday edition in his column today and the loss of the Sunday paper, with the usual Quebecor rhetoric on the state of print media.

The TSF reader said:

"I think it's silly to dismiss Berton's comments as 'Quebecor rhetoric.' Printed newspapers are dying. It may hurt to admit that for old-timers like us, but that doesn't make it any less true. I know fewer and fewer people under 45 who insist on starting their day with a print newspaper, the way we oldsters like to do.

"I think it is deluded for those of us in the business to tell ourselves that this trend will reverse itself if we just build a better product. If the market doesn't want your product, it doesn't matter how good it is. That's capitalism, for good or for ill.

"I don't have a solution. I just think we need to be realistic."

Thank you for your comment, but the problem with the Sun product is it isn't as good as it was, thanks to a decade of demoralizing, destructive gutting by Quebecor, centralization and a relentless pursuit of Internet numbers at the expense of print readers.

Just about everything that made the Toronto Sun a unique, North American media success story has been chewed up and spit out along with hundreds of loyal, dedicated employees.

The cost of messing with success and ripping the heart out of the Toronto Sun: tens of thousands of loyal readers.

To say the death of print media is inevitable because people under 45 aren't buying papers is an insult to seniors and the record number of baby boomers who were raised on print and are not prepared to abandon their daily news habits.

Look at the Globe and Mail. We do daily. It has not sacrificed the quality of its print edition while perfecting its Internet platform. That is taking pride in what you do and how you do it, for the benefit of all readers, young and old.

While print tabloids in other major cities in the U.S. and Europe are down but far from out, the Toronto Sun and its sister tabloids are inching ever closer to the brink.


Here's our Top 10 list of ways a phenomenally successful tabloid - and its sister tabloids - can self destruct within a decade:

1 - Not long after the Sun Media purchase agreement is inked, begin gutting the tabloids with layoffs, firings and other cutbacks

2 - Abandon the successful tabloid formula, with its emphasis on local news, photos, independent editorials, offbeat features, diverse columns etc. in favour of centralized, broadsheet content

3 - Slowly eliminate the unique bond between the Suns and their longtime, loyal readers by tuning them out of the goings on at their favourite tabloid and axing annual reader surveys

4 - Lay off and fire some more employees, including veteran reporters and columnists who do not get a "thanks" in print, nor the opportunity to say goodbye to readers

5 - Abandon any pretense of caring about the quality of print media journalism, while feverishly flogging online Sun Media sites on page after page ad nauseam

6 - Raise the price of the tabloid and, in Ontario, don't round off the total as most newspapers do, tack on the tax so annoyed readers and retailers waste time with extra pennies.

7 - Lay off and fire some more employees and curb more benefits, turning once bustling newsrooms into depressing and demoralizing work environments

8 - As a Christmas gift, go big time: Wish them Noel 2008 days after axing 600 jobs throughout the Sun Media chain, and don't tell readers the names of favourite reporters and columnists who have been axed

9 - Now that the newsrooms have been gutted, introduce three-way duties - reporting, still photography and video - for remaining staffers, increasing their work load to the detriment of focus

10 - Tell readers of your demoralized and anemic newspapers that the downturn of North American print media readership is to blame for all your woes, not the dismantling of everything that made the Little Paper That Grew so successful and the talk of the town

It would be silly not to believe the Internet is to blame for all of the Sun's woes, right? Not really.

There is no doubt the Toronto Sun, if owned by the same newspaper people who launched it in 1971 in a converted factory and took it into the 1990s with banners flying high, would be confronting the downturn in print media readership.

Innovative and dedicated as they were, and unique as the Toronto Sun was in the community, they would be better equipped to keep the Sun competitive, in print and online.

They would also have a fiercely loyal staff and faithful readers on their side.

The Toronto Sun was named one of the Top 100 places to work in the 1980s and for good reason. It was. Newspaper people ran the place and it was the place to work.

When the founders of USA Today arrived in Toronto to consult with Toronto Sun executives before the national paper was launched in 1982, it wasn't idle chatter.

The success of the Toronto Sun in its first decade was the talk of North America and USA Today founders wanted inside information on layout and content. The Sun execs were obliging.

USA Today's print edition and web site are classic examples of what can be accomplished with clarity of mind, with print readership in 2008 holding firm and a web site to be envied.

Sadly, after a 10-year slide, the same can't be said for the Suns.

Silly as we may be, we're not comfortable saying the woes of the Toronto Sun and its sister newspapers rest fully on the North American downtown of print media.

If numbers are spiralling out of control - we haven't had access to Toronto Sun circulation stats for months - we are more inclined to blame the loss of much of its staff, its focus, its heart, loyalty of staff and readers, and the tunnel vision rush to the Internet.

To be realistic, as the anonymous reader suggests, 2009 is going to be a gloomy year for the remaining Toronto Sun employees. With about 80 newsroom staffers, down from more than 200 in 1999, the fat lady can be heard warming up on a nearby stage.

But there are enough high profile favourites still working out of 333 - Donato, Peter W., Bonokoski, Strobel, Mandel, Warmington, Braun, Kirkland, Slotek, Filey, Margolis, Woodcock, the sports crew etc. - to warrant buying the Sun daily.

They are the remaining links to a Toronto Sun we all once called a home away from home.

We wish them, and all Sun staffers, well in the coming year.


  1. I'm the poster who posted that comment. To clarify, I didn't mean to call you silly personally. I just thought the particular point you were making was silly. Even smart people can say silly things! I'm a fan of this blog and I wouldn't be if I thought it was silly.

    As for the comment about readers over 45, come on. I didn't mean to insult people over 45. I'm one myself. I meant that a business that caters only to that demographic is going to find itself in trouble in the long term (except for nursing homes). I can't see how anyone could disagree with that.

  2. I just don't buy that in 10 years, there will be no such thing as a newspaper. Or a magazine, for that matter. And I'm fairly young.

    There has to be a paper of record, even if it's going out to fewer people and simultaneously posting video online. Do a Google News search (on a REAL subject), and many of the relevant results are still from online editions of print media. If there is something valid enough to replace the local newspaper, we haven't found it yet. There is just nowhere else that everybody knows to go.

    And if newspapers are extinct in 10 years, I would hate to be a historical researcher 50 years from now.

    I also didn't buy it 20 years ago when people said that one day, offices will be paperless. Nor did I buy that the Internet would be the death of TV, or that e-mail would be the end of the postal service. But hey.

  3. I'm a daily newspaper wire editor in Ontario (over 40, under 50 years old) ... and to say that the loss of newspaper readership is strictly due to layoffs and cutbacks is probably a bit much.
    Don't get me wrong, I hate these cutbacks as much as anyone, but to say the cutbacks alone helped kill the newspaper industry just isn't accurate.
    The Internet and advent of free information is what hurt newspapers.
    For young readers, I suspect the fact we're owned by huge corporations didn't help us either.
    For young readers brought up on the Internet, the news is free and not constrained by corporate America or Canada.

    I'm not sure what the answer is either - unfortunately - but to say our numbers are down merely because of staff cuts and what-not is just being pie in the sky.

  4. I'm a 35-year-old newspaper reporter dedicated to the print format.
    To say young people don't read newspapers is dismissive of those under this imaginary 45-year cut-off.
    Most of my friends are under 40 and not involved in media - and they read newspapers. They also use the web to seek out more information. On Saturday's one buddy of mine will often pick up copies of the Star, Globe, National Post and Sun - and read'em all. Oh, he's 35 too.

    I recognize there is an important role for the web - one much different than the role for newspapers. Maybe our problem today is the publishers, owners and editors are are all tired "oldsters" who can't understand the important role print still plays and will continue to play into the future.

    Newspapers - on the printed page - will rebound within the next 10 to 20 years, when the 50-year-olds currently running the show finally retire and let the youngster who grew up on the net into positions of power, where we can sigh and say: "Why couldn't they see - papers ain't the web, the web ain't papers."
    I'm excited about that rebirth, and I'll be a part of it.

  5. I agree there's still a large population of newspaper readers.
    For many, the Internet is not replacing their newspaper/newspapers of choice.
    Sure, the Net is arguably less expensive for consumers.
    But ask a diehard newspaper reader why they like a traditional paper and their reasons would include:
    1) More enjoyable/comfortable way to read.
    2) Better packaging of information.
    3) Personal habit that's important to them.