Determined to be more Toronto-centric, the Toronto Star cuts 120 Torontonians

Determined to be more Toronto-centric, the Toronto Star cuts 120 Torontonians

What with the heavy artillery in New York’s newspaper war continuing to boom and crash (the Journal’s managing editor, the unfortunately monikered Marcus Brauchli, has pitched himself over the side to leave room for Murdoch’s handpicked capo, Robert Thomson, to run the show), now might be the moment for a quick review of one of Canada’s somewhat more tepid skirmishes. The latest “news” concerns the Toronto Star’s recent round of layoffs. Included in the 120-odd who were shown the door was the entire Internet production staff. This in turn led a snarky union rep to spit back,“[The Star’s] message to the world is that they’re all dedicated to the Internet, but then they lay off the whole department.” Well, yes. Despite the element of futility after the fact, the rep’s got a point.

Layoffs like these likely mean that the production load will now fall on journalists, requiring them to add Internet production to their skill set. A Torstar employee—one who’s been through the Star’s vaunted “Web U”—was quoted in the latest issue of the Ryerson Review of Journalism, revealing that Star journalists are thrown in “the deep end. They’re used to being fantastic at what they do, and we’re asking them to do something they don’t know how to do yet.” This leaves them less time, one supposes, to do, er, journalism.

And let’s face it, journalism isn’t exactly the Star’s strong suit these days. The same Ryerson Review article describes the Star’s most recent iteration as “bulleted information, numbers in large type to express headline-like information and sidebars designed to look like pull quotes.” Even long-time Star columnist Richard Gwyn observes that “everybody is struggling to find a niche” in a paper that is more Toronto-centric and “less intellectually ambitious than it used to be.”

More Toronto-centric? This is the Toronto Star he’s taking about—a paper that, one wag suggested, should carry a logo on the front page that reads “proudly parochial since 1892.” And describing the Star as less intellectually ambitious is like complaining that circus midgets aren’t short enough. Take Tuesday’s front page: I dare you to distinguish the bland Earth Day headline and accompanying flower photo (see above) from the Beamsville Gleaner. (I’m not sure there is a Beamsville Gleaner, but you know what I mean.)

Earlier in the decade, driven by Torstar prez Rob Prichard, the Star pursued a more ambitious agenda, beefing up both its national coverage and relevance. They even tried re-conceiving the Sunday paper as a Sunday magazine (full disclosure: I wrote regular features for then Sunday Star deputy editor Peter Scowen). All of this went for naught, having to do with the complications of the Star’s ownership—a bevy of five coupon-clipping trust-funded families. Now they’re a long way back from where they started. More on this in the coming days.

Brauchli’s Letter to WSJ Staff [Wall Street Journal]• Torstar cutting 160 jobs, including Internet jobs, takes $21-million restructuring charge [Yahoo]