Friday, 9 January 2009

What If? Forum

Updated 10/01/09

We asked TSF readers: What if Torstar, not Quebecor, purchased Sun Media in 1999? What if Black Press, not Quebecor, won the 2007 battle for Osprey Media?

An anonymous posting

"From the get-go, the Toronto Star said that if it bought Sun Media, its Toronto plans included merging the various office jobs, combining printing and delivery, and possibly merging ad depts.

"The Star admitted jobs might be lost. (Of course, jobs are always lost in any merger/takeover).

"But the Star said it would definitely keep the newsrooms separate and independent. It made extremely good business sense to own and operate the two, very different papers.

"If the Star had bought the Sun, Sun employees would have been unionized much sooner and with less trouble.

"I have no doubt the Star would have sold 333 King. Perhaps, the Sun would be the free paper today instead of 24 Hours and Metro. The original FYI and Today papers would not have been created, which would have saved $5-8 million. How many jobs would that have saved? (Remember those that got fired when FYI shut down?)

"Remember all the stories planted in the Sun about how bad the Star would be if they purchased the Sun: remember the blacked-out Page 3?

"Why did Sun Media court Quebecor and publicly paint TorStar as villains, leading up to the sale? Like any good investigative reporter, follow the money. And, the money trail starts "before" Sun Media was put into play."

Additional comment from the same TSF reader re free Suns:

"A plan for the Toronto Sun to go free was made in 1999. It wasn't a formal, detailed plan, but rather a verbal explanation of how it should/might proceed. The discussion included how the Sun's under 30-year old readers were gone and that circulation was only dropping.

"The Sun Media corporate executive present, (who was one of the top three at Sun Media), laughed and said "Newspapers will never be free."

An e-mail from a former senior Toronto Sun executive:

"It’s really hard to play the “what if” game. No one associated with Sun Media since Doug (Creighton) - Torstar and Black included - has demonstrated the leadership or vision that would lead me to believe that things would be marketed different.

"The pack seems to want to follow the traditional path of trying to cut their way to success, rather than accept that lower margins and a well thought out business plan reflective of the changing media environment was what was needed to ensure continued success.

"The concept of waiting for the money to roll in seemed to be the order of the day. It is too bad really.

"There was an idea floated in late 2004 that would have seen the Sun go free. The plan would have closed 24hours; locked the pagination of the Sun with a fixed advertising inventory and editorial news hole; and clearly defined the editorial space within the market in which the paper would live going forward.

"Yes, it would have taken the paper into the red. But, the numbers would have returned to the black within 30 months. It would also have driven the circulation up significantly, thus forcing the Star to recognize the Sun as a major player again.

"The rejection of the idea was driven strictly by the desire to maintain a dwindling short term profit margin.

"Would this have prevented much of the carnage that has taken place since 2004? I don’t know. My guess is it could have. Or at least mitigated it.

"But it certainly would have been no worse than the loss of countless jobs, tens of thousands of readers and millions in advertising revenue."

From an anonymous TSF reader:

"Not sure how to predict what Torstar's plans would have been.

"But judging by many of Black Press's online products, it's safe to suggest the company would have went in a slightly different direction than Quebecor.

"Black Press seems to have figured out a way to use the Net to cover news, all the while enhancing the company at the same time.

"From an observation point of view, Black's become slick without going overboard."

From an anonymous reader:

"I wasn't at Sun Media at the time so I don't remember the details, but is there really any doubt that Torstar would have closed the Toronto Sun in order to leave the Star completely dominant in Toronto?

"What else would have made sense? Why compete with yourself?"

E-mail your What if? replies to TSF or post them as comments and we will add them to the forum.


  1. Why wouldn't a former exec have the hutzpa to leave their name?

  2. The problem is this:

    There are those that believe that money is the big score.

    Others feel that learning is the big score.

    Family, friends, and the good life, they are all important, but self-actualizing is the ultimate.

    So, the business side of the Toronto Sun & the news & comment side of the Toronto Sun are at angles. They want to both succeed. They both need each other. But how to SELL the BEST Toronto newspaper is sometimes lost on both sides.

    The Sun's problem is that too few people at the End (it has ended, to this outsider) had the other side's viewpoint, AND a failure to adapt fast enough -- maybe that's the structural problem at the Sun now. How to get people? Sell the best writers who generate $. Back it up with an information mill. Get smarter, and be prepared to take lower margins, and both news and comment gotta bear down, and SELL the paper. Everybody hangs off you. Anything else, each paper in the Sun Chain gets smaller. Paper has to be ahead of the curve intellectually wise. Otherwise, why will I bother to spend money to read it? That's the only way to save it, and make a new Start.

    By the way, National Post -- BOO! on the no Mondays policy but yet still charging me a full subscription fee. Great policy.


    PS to the anonymous reader...if I can buy out smaller competition in a market where it takes serious legwork to start, and gain a monopoly, and just make the Sun look dorky, hey, I will get all the ads. The question is RETURN & RISK.