Monday, March 30, 2009

Advice For My Favourite Newspaper - The Toronto Sun

I've posted my thoughts about some newspaper columnists recently, specifically about those who whine on endlessly about bloggers as though we're the reason print media is in so much trouble. Newspapers need to get their heads out of their collective posteriors, every blogger in Canada could stop posting and it wouldn't help circulation or their bottom lines one iota.

Living in the Toronto area I'm guessing that I reside in one of the most saturated media markets in North America (if not the world) as far as newspaper penetration is concerned. For those who enjoy a daily paper, Toronto has four: The Sun, The Star, The Globe & Mail and the National Post. If that's not enough there are two free 'commuter papers', Metro and 24 Hours, greatly condensed little rags but okay for a quick read. The competition is so fierce its not surprising that profitability is suffering.

I'm a big fan of newspapers, in high school I would sit in home room with my copy of the Toronto Star, going through the sports pages. That was over 20 years ago however, and I suspect that most 20 and 30 year olds have found alternative sources for news and information in our digital age. I'm still a big reader of the sports section, but I've long since moved onto the Toronto Sun...given that their sports coverage kicks the tar out of any other paper in this city. And as I've grown older and as my interests have too has my consumption of news. I'm no longer content with just the sports, I'm also doing the daily crossword puzzles and reading columnists, among other things.

Being born in 1966 I find myself in an interesting demographic nexus. According to population experts I was born in the last year of the baby boom, although I find I have little in common with the bulk of this mass who are now in their late fifties and early sixties. That's not to say I don't share some affinity with this age group, actually I see myself as having a foot in two camps. I can see things from a boomer perspective, but I also understand what the younger generation is about too.

The challenge facing newspapers...How to attract new tech wise 20 and 30 somethings, while not alienating older readers? I used to play basketball with a guy from the Sun's finance department. While shooting around during warm-up I'd often give him my thoughts on the paper and some of the writers, "love your paper John" I'd often say. "That's great Gord" he'd frequently reply, "but we need more of you".

So Toronto Sun, here are some suggestions...take them for what they're worth. Some will be lame perhaps, but I'm pretty sure there will be at least a couple of gems worthy of consideration.

Firstly, put the Sunshine Girl back where she belongs...on page 3. I realize the move to the back inside cover was, (at least in part) a concession to political correctness, well forget it. The Sun has never been a politically correct paper, that's a big part of its charm. Do you guys still have a Sunshine Boy? If not bring him back and stick him on the back inside cover. I'd be willing to volunteer my services, but...well, that would probably hurt circulation among female readers.

What's that? People will complain? Is there something wrong with that? PT Barnum put it best, there's no such thing as bad long as they spell your name right. Putting a bikini clad (the skimpier the better) cutie back in a place of prominence might just garner you some coverage with other media. I don't care if a reader is 20 or 60, there's nothing wrong with a daily hormone check. Your older readers might just be inspired to refill their Viagra prescriptions.

Now...onto the news. Take a tip from the free commuter papers, shorter is better. Monday's edition of The Sun (pg 7) had almost a half page devoted to news on the on-going saga in the auto sector. News flash, those who are interested have already heard about it on radio and seen it on TV. If we want more there are tons of on-line resources we can turn to. I'm not saying ignore it, but cut it down to the basics...who, what, get the point. In today's hyper fast world people want to be informed, we don't want to be experts.

Engage the digital set, the blackberry crowd. Take the hottest most controversial news story out there and post a daily question. Ask readers to respond using their handhelds or via email, using just 10 words. Then publish the best 'Reactions' the following day complete with their could fit a shit load on one page. People love seeing their name in print, and will tell all their friends and family. That's why people write letters to the editor. You'll probably recall the popularity of a recently published book, where people were asked to compose a 6 word biography. If not check this LINK: 10 words is plenty, you could ask people: What's Your Take On The Auto Sector? I'm just spit balling here, I'm sure you could come up with at least one good question a day. You have a lot of sharp readers and I'm sure many of the reactions would be hilarious. onto the columns. Its time for you to find the next Rimstead, Lautens or Dave Berry. Warmington is okay, but he's too serious a lot of the time...which is fine, he has his niche. But people need a daily dose of humour. Search the blog sphere if you must, there's gotta be one out there among the GTA's millions. You might not even have to look that far, there might be someone already on staff.

One of your sports writers, Steve Buffery...he was doing a weekly bit called "Its a Living" for a short while, but it was in the sports section which made zero sense since it was a 'slice of life' column. Personally I found a lot of his thoughts great for a chuckle...and if the column had appeared closer to the front I think he could have developed something of a fan base. Whatever the case, if you take up this suggestion, it would need to be something published 2 or 3 times a week...Mondays and Wednesdays or Tues/Thurs/Fri. Worthington would be another great choice, I loved reading about his hair cutting machine, and his parking ticket battles...but I suspect he still likes to weigh in on meatier subjects in the comment section. Maybe you could find 2, one for M/W and the other for T/Th/Fr?

Alright, so there's 4 suggestions for you:

  • Putting the Sunshine Girl back on page 3.
  • News stories that are short and concise.
  • A reader reaction page.
  • A humour column or two on a dedicated page near the front of the paper.
These suggestions are probably very cost effective in that they wouldn't involve any major overhaul, in fact you may be able to save on the news side of things. I know that kind of sucks, but the world is changing. If there are savings and you're looking to invest, try bringing back some of the more popular comic strips. I don't read the comics much myself, but I know there are a lot of devoted fans out there. I read about how you axed most of them...and how people complained. That spurred me to take a look, and frankly the new comics....they suck.

The rest? Leave it, especially your outstanding team of columnists...Blizzard, Sa, Coren, Mansur, Margolis, Goldstein...I read almost all of them. Oh yeah, and don't dare touch the sports section.

Oh...if you have some staff that want to add me on Twitter, I'm CanukGord. I'm gonna keep plugging Twitter until I have at least 100 followers. Right now I'm at 14.

Comments are welcomed and feel free to pass this along via email or through a social network like FaceBook, just click on the ‘Share’ icon below.

No comments: