Fi­nal Edi­tion

Canada’s most sto­ried news­pa­per tries to stay alive dur­ing the last days of print

The Walrus - - CONTENTS - by Brett Pop­plewell

Canada’s largest news­pa­per tries to stay alive dur­ing the last days of print

Daniel Dale sits bare­foot and py­jama-clad in his Wash­ing­ton apart­ment, his mouse in one hand, an iphone pressed to his ear with the other. It’s 8 a.m. on a Jan­uary Mon­day, and he’s be­ing in­ter­viewed by ra­dio host Anna Maria Tre­monti, talk­ing to Cana­di­ans coast to coast via the CBC’S The Cur­rent. A mug of pink wa­ter­melon-cu­cum­ber juice rests by his key­board. The thirty-three-year-old Toronto Star Wash­ing­ton bureau chief, and one of the last for­eign cor­re­spon­dents con­nected to a Cana­dian metro daily, spent most of the night at his com­puter fact-check­ing ev­ery­thing Don­ald Trump had said pub­licly in the past five days. Dale has been painstak­ingly record­ing un­true state­ments the US pres­i­dent has ut­tered since tak­ing of­fice — 1,075 false­hoods in the first 365 days of his ad­min­is­tra­tion. Hav­ing just an­a­lyzed the lat­est White House tran­scripts, he caught Trump in an ad libbed ex­ag­ger­a­tion about how “no­body knows” that the Em­pire State Build­ing was built in less than a year. It wasn’t. Tre­monti asks about the jour­nal­is­tic high­lights of Trump’s first year as pres­i­dent. Dale’s at­ten­tion is di­vided, hav­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ously loaded the front pages of 120 news­pa­pers on his mon­i­tor. No one lis­ten­ing would know he’s only half­fo­cused on the words com­ing out of his mouth; ev­ery­thing he says is de­liv­ered in suc­cinct sound bites. “There have been a lot of ques­tions about jour­nal­ism in this era and the chang­ing me­dia land­scape,” he tells CBC lis­ten­ers while scrolling to the mid­dle of an ar­ti­cle about the most re­cent US fed­eral gov­ern­ment shut­down. He high­lights a para­graph on his screen. “But I think a lot of jour­nal­ism has been fan­tas­tic,” he says. An­other guest, an Ivy League pro­fes­sor of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, ar­gues that the me­dia are triv­i­al­iz­ing the news out of Wash­ing­ton. There is a long-stand­ing ten­sion, the pro­fes­sor ex­plains, be­tween what the pub­lic craves from the news and what they ac­tu­ally need for democ­racy to work. De­spite all the in­ves­tiga­tive re­port­ing on Trump, the pub­lic seems un­able to dis­tin­guish what’s im­por­tant from what isn’t. Dale nods at the pro­fes­sor’s crit­i­cism.

Sip­ping his juice, he skims the front of the Vir­ginian-pi­lot. He’s onto the Char­lotte Ob­server when Tre­monti asks what the low­est point in the Trump cov­er­age has been. “We can fail, on oc­ca­sion, to delve deep into some se­ri­ous pol­icy change,” Dale replies, “be­cause we are dis­tracted, in­ten­tion­ally or un­in­ten­tion­ally — I usu­ally ar­gue un­in­ten­tion­ally — by some­thing Trump is tweet­ing or say­ing.” Tre­monti holds Dale there. “You re­ally have gone out of your way to fact-check the pres­i­dent a lot,” she says. “How dif­fi­cult is that?” Dale closes the Omaha World-her­ald and looks to the empty walls of his apart­ment. He’s been liv­ing in DC for nearly two years but hasn’t yet hung a photo and isn’t sure he ever will. “It’s more of an en­durance test than a skill test,” he an­swers, adding that the re­ac­tion has been mostly pos­i­tive. “I also do get a bunch of push­back from peo­ple who are more sym­pa­thetic to Trump say­ing, ‘What’s the point?’” Tre­monti thanks him for his time. Dale low­ers his phone. It’s now 8:30 a.m. He checks Trump’s Twit­ter feed, then taps out his own tweet about the most in­ter­est­ing line from the 250-plus sto­ries he’s just skimmed. The sen­tence, from a Wash­ing­ton Post book re­view, is about how Kellyanne Con­way talks Trump out of pet­ti­ness with the line: “You’re re­ally big. That’s re­ally small.” Dale fires off the tweet to his more than 300,000 fol­low­ers around the globe. A brand unto him­self, he is one of the few jour­nal­ists whose Twit­ter fol­low­ing is big­ger than the paid cir­cu­la­tion of his own news­pa­per — which, for much of its 126-year his­tory, has been the largest and most in­flu­en­tial daily in Canada — an in­sti­tu­tion that served as the in­spi­ra­tion for Clark Kent’s Daily Planet. If Dale’s fol­low­ing is ex­plod­ing, it’s be­cause he knows that, to reach an au­di­ence in­creas­ingly spoiled for choice, he must give his read­ers not only the care­ful anal­y­sis they need but also what they want. And what they want right now is a con­stant stream of up­dates about a thrice-mar­ried, twice-di­vorced, foul-mouthed, at­ten­tion-ad­dled real es­tate mogul. But, while Dale’s cov­er­age of Trump has helped make him Canada’s best­known re­porter and one of the most feted jour­nal­ists in the en­tire Wash­ing­ton press corps ( Politico in­cluded Dale on its list of break­out me­dia stars of 2016), the in­sti­tu­tion that pays him to do what he does has been un­able to gen­er­ate a profit from his ef­forts — or any of the ef­forts of its roughly 170 full-time jour­nal­ists. With ev­ery pass­ing day that Dale wakes up in Wash­ing­ton, the Star edges closer to fi­nan­cial col­lapse. With ev­ery re­port­ing de­ci­sion Dale makes that brings him ac­claim and at­ten­tion, the team back home at 1 Yonge Street strug­gles to keep the en­tire op­er­a­tion afloat. As John Hon­derich, chair of the board of the Star’s par­ent com­pany, Torstar, re­cently put it, “we’re very, very close to the end.” No longer able to com­pete with the likes of the Guardian, the New York Times, and the Wash­ing­ton Post on sto­ries of power, celebrity, and catas­tro­phe, the Star has, over the last decade, been forced to do what all but one other Cana­dian news­pa­per has done: pull back its cov­er­age. Gone are the days when sto­ries from its cor­re­spon­dents in Mos­cow, Saigon, and Berlin in­formed not just the pub­lic but also fed­eral politi­cians who turned to its pages for a Cana­dian per­spec­tive on the world. In the mean­time, the brunt of the news­pa­per’s orig­i­nal for­eign re­portage — and much of its pres­tige for de­fend­ing truth in a post-fact world — is con­fined to one re­porter, work­ing day and night in a dusty apart­ment. Soon, even he might be gone.

It’s in­creas­ingly hard to re­mem­ber the world be­fore the in­ter­net, when global and lo­cal hap­pen­ings were an­nounced at set times over the air­waves or dropped on your doorstep each day. “The news” was a sim­pler busi­ness back then, and a prof­itable one to boot. But, in the last decade alone, more than 16,000 jour­nal­ism jobs have dis­ap­peared — ca­su­al­ties of a fail­ing busi­ness model that has seen the clo­sure of at least 244 lo­cal news out­lets in 181 com­mu­ni­ties across the coun­try. Not all the car­nage has been in print — more than one-third of jobs lost from 2009 to 2014 were from the broad­cast sec­tor, the re­sult of Cana­di­ans tuning out ca­ble TV. It’s all part of a large-scale re­def­i­ni­tion of what con­sti­tutes “mass me­dia,” as com­pa­nies like Twit­ter, Face­book, and Google be­come the plat­forms most ca­pa­ble of do­ing what Alexis de Toc­queville, a nine­teenth-cen­tury French po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist, saw as cru­cial to a func­tion­ing democ­racy: to “drop the same thought into a thou­sand minds at the same mo­ment.” Those plat­forms have made the idea of print news­pa­pers feel quaint. And yet with­out those pub­lished prod­ucts, the ma­jor­ity of jour­nal­ists left em­ployed in this coun­try would likely be out of work. Torstar’s an­nual print-ad rev­enue has dropped by al­most 40 per­cent since 2014, but it’s still over two times greater than the $128.5 mil­lion it gets from dig­i­tal ads, while the $114.3 mil­lion the com­pany makes from print sub­scribers is $114.3 mil­lion more than any­one pays to read Dale’s re­port­ing on a screen. Even though Dale reaches a far greater au­di­ence on­line than he does in print, and de­spite the fact that his pa­per’s dig­i­tal en­ter­prise de­mands a frac­tion of the cost of its print al­ba­tross, if Torstar were to shut down the presses and go en­tirely dig­i­tal, ap­prox­i­mately 74 per­cent of its op­er­at­ing rev­enue would van­ish, cra­ter­ing the en­tire op­er­a­tion. As bad as things look for the Star, its par­ent com­pany re­mains, for now, sol­vent. Which isn’t quite the case for Postmedia, which con­trols the ma­jor­ity of Canada’s metro dailies — the Ot­tawa Cit­i­zen, the Van­cou­ver Sun, the Edmonton Jour­nal, the Cal­gary Her­ald, the Mon­treal Gazette, and nearly thirty oth­ers. Two years ago, as the chain strug­gled to pay the in­ter­est on its $653 mil­lion debt, Postmedia’s CEO turned the com­pany’s largest debt holder (a New Jer­sey–based hedge fund man­ager) into its largest share­holder. Most of the news­pa­pers have al­ready been stripped of their as­sets, and it’s un­likely any will sur­vive should the chain de­clare bank­ruptcy. With Postmedia on the brink, Torstar — with just over $71 mil­lion in cash re­serves — is bet­ting on a bold ex­pan­sion in Van­cou­ver, Edmonton, Cal­gary, and Hal­i­fax. The plan re­lies on the Star treat­ing the free Metro com­muter news­pa­pers un­der its con­trol as bu­reaus for their re­spec­tive cities, re­brand­ing them as

Starmetro. As part of the re­vamp, Torstar hired twenty re­porters to shore up the Metro news­rooms. All Metro web traf­fic is now be­ing sent to thes­tar.com, with visi­tors greeted by cov­er­age tai­lored to their metropoli­tan area. The strat­egy has ev­ery in­di­ca­tion of even­tu­ally in­clud­ing a dig­i­tal pay­wall. First, whet the reader’s ap­petite, then con­vert them into dig­i­tal sub­scribers. Its suc­cess hinges par­tially on fran­chis­ing the Star’s tra­di­tion of gumshoe re­port­ing, de­liv­er­ing what out­go­ing ed­i­tor-in-chief Michael Cooke calls “the squeal of tires and a burst of ma­chine-gun fire.” But can the Star con­vince enough read­ers from coast to coast that one of Canada’s most sto­ried news brands is worth pay­ing for? “That’s not the big­gest ques­tion,” Cooke says. “It’s the only ques­tion.” Tom Rosen­stiel, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Amer­i­can Press In­sti­tute, has worked with news or­ga­ni­za­tions across the US on strate­gies to move beyond print. “If you’re not grow­ing a dig­i­tal fu­ture,” he says, “there isn’t a sce­nario where you sur­vive.” Rosen­stiel warns that the in­dus­try needs to brace it­self for the time when ad rev­enues shrink to un­sus­tain­able lev­els, which he projects at seven to ten years out. If news­pa­pers aren’t up and run­ning on dig­i­tal sub­scrib­tions in time, it will be too late to re­verse course. And if metro dailies — part of what schol­ars have called “key­stone” out­lets for the way they can set the agenda for web, ra­dio, and TV — keep fall­ing, the in­hab­i­tants of the ma­jor­ity of cities across Canada and the United States will lose a cru­cial check on their politi­cians and in­sti­tu­tions. The ab­sence of re­porters can al­ready be seen in the in­creas­ingly empty press gal­leries at many pro­vin­cial leg­is­la­tures. In Regina, the fourth es­tate has been so eroded that there are no re­porters

keep­ing a full-time eye on what’s be­ing said and done in­side the cor­ri­dors of power. At the mu­nic­i­pal level, it’s even worse. In Ot­tawa, a lone re­porter cov­ers the en­tire city on week­ends, fil­ing sto­ries to both the Ot­tawa Cit­i­zen an­dot­tawa Sun. Mean­while, in Thunder Bay, when the mayor was swept up in ex­tor­tion and ob­struc­tion of jus­tice charges in 2017, un­der­staffing at the Thunder Bay Chron­i­cle Jour­nal caused it to fall be­hind the scan­dal, for weeks un­able to dis­sem­i­nate much more than OPP press re­leases to the pub­lic. The cri­sis in me­dia, in other words, has evolved from be­ing tech­no­log­i­cal to ex­is­ten­tial, as a news dark­ness threat­ens to de­scend wher­ever metro dailies are snuffed out.

Among those still work­ing within the de­bris of the in­dus­try, Daniel Dale is one of the most tire­less and ef­fec­tive. Af­ter turn­ing his back on a promis­ing fu­ture in busi­ness at the age of twenty-one, Dale has be­come the cur­rent em­bod­i­ment of what his news­pa­per has long re­ferred to as a “Star man” — the stereo­type of the muck­rak­ing worka­holic who sac­ri­fices health, re­la­tion­ships, and pretty much ev­ery­thing short of life it­self in or­der to chase down the next scoop. The lin­eage in­cludes Pierre Van Paassen (one of the first jour­nal­ists banned from Ger­many af­ter crit­i­ciz­ing the rise of the Nazis in 1933), Ger­ald Ut­ting (who van­ished in Idi Amin’s Uganda for three weeks be­fore emerg­ing twenty pounds lighter and with an ex­clu­sive sit-down in­ter­view with the mur­der­ous dic­ta­tor), Paul Wat­son (Pulitzer Prize–win­ner whose pho­to­graph of a US sol­dier be­ing dragged through the streets of Mogadishu in 1993 helped change Amer­i­can for­eign pol­icy), and Kath­leen Kenna (se­verely in­jured by a grenade af­ter be­ing am­bushed while cov­er­ing the open­ing stages of the war in Afghanistan in 2002). But it was Robert Reg­uly who set the stan­dard. In 1966, he blew the lid off of Canada’s big­gest po­lit­i­cal sex scan­dal when he tracked down a pros­ti­tute, and al­leged So­viet spy, liv­ing in Mu­nich who had slept with at least one cab­i­net min­is­ter in John Diefen­baker’s gov­ern­ment. Born in 1985, Dale may be the last Star man, but he is also among the first to learn his trade dur­ing the death throes of the Guten­berg era. Dale is good both in the old-fash­ioned way (fil­ing po­lit­i­cal anal­y­sis to a news­room) and in the mod­ern way (tweet­ing out unique and in­valu­able in­for­ma­tion). More than that, he has mar­ried the two skills to be­come the Star’s top in­flu­encer — a per­son through whom a grow­ing num­ber of peo­ple now get their news. It was Dale who, in Novem­ber 2015, trav­elled to Mil­wau­kee to write about the most seg­re­gated streets in the United States (when ri­ots ex­ploded there nine months later, sev­eral US jour­nal­ists turned to Dale’s re­port­ing to un­der­stand why). And it was Dale who, when al­le­ga­tions emerged last year that Roy Moore, the Re­pub­li­can can­di­date for the Alabama se­nate, en­gaged in sex­ual mis­con­duct with a mi­nor, called more than five Re­pub­li­can chair­men from across the state. Few re­porters thought to reach out to the party’s grass­roots for com­ment. The next day’s Wash­ing­ton Post sourced Dale on Re­pub­li­can re­ac­tion to the scan­dal. The dogged­ness with which Dale factchecks Trump has set him apart from all oth­ers work­ing in­side the largest press gallery on the planet. It was in his ho­tel room mid­way through the 2016 GOP con­ven­tion in Ohio that Dale re­al­ized that many news out­lets, in­clud­ing his, weren’t do­ing enough to chal­lenge Trump’s dis­hon­esty. “I was un­happy with how we were cov­er­ing his fal­si­ties,” he says. He felt that they were wor­thy of be­ing a larger story in it­self, rather than a side­bar to some­thing else. Dale had been study­ing Trump’s de­liv­ery and de­tected sev­eral tell­tale signs that of­ten ac­com­pa­nied a fabrication. When­ever Trump re­ferred to “some­one” hav­ing called or told him some­thing, Dale would make in­quiries to see if it was true. He wasn’t just googling facts. He was chas­ing leads, try­ing to catch Trump’s ex­ag­ger­a­tions on any­thing from ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­ity in Afghanistan to the trade deficit with China. When he shared his find­ings with his­to­ri­ans, they con­firmed just how un­prece­dented Trump’s dis­re­gard for the truth ac­tu­ally was. Then Dale used a word not of­ten found in tra­di­tional re­port­ing. He called Trump a liar. The 2010 elec­tion of Rob Ford, a pop­ulist Toronto mayor who had lit­tle in­ter­est in truth and its des­ig­nated ar­biters, had al­ready taught Dale the power of de­cep­tion as a po­lit­i­cal tool. For a long time, the Star — with a team that in­cluded Dale, Robyn Doolit­tle, and Kevin Dono­van — stood alone in un­earthing scan­dal af­ter scan­dal about the be­lea­guered politi­cian. In an ef­fort to shat­ter the pub­lic’s trust in the news­pa­per, Rob and his brother Doug Ford rou­tinely ac­cused the Star of fal­si­fy­ing facts and fab­ri­cat­ing sto­ries, es­pe­cially af­ter the pa­per be­gan re­port­ing that Rob had ap­peared in a video smok­ing crack. The mayor went so far as to ac­cuse Dale of peer­ing into his prop­erty to ogle his chil­dren, and Ford later had to apol­o­gize. Look­ing back on those years at city hall, Dale says they pre­pared him for his cur­rent role in an en­vi­ron­ment where facts are con­tin­u­ally de­rided. It was also at city hall where Dale first cap­i­tal­ized on what Twit­ter could of­fer as a re­port­ing tool and dis­tri­bu­tion mech­a­nism. A slow adopter of new tech­nol­ogy, Dale was a re­luc­tant tweeter at first. For a long time, his avatar was the de­fault egg. But he learned that Twit­ter could be used to stand up for the in­tegrity of the pub­lic record in real time. He had no idea, though, just how much he’d be us­ing Twit­ter to hold to ac­count apres­i­dent whose chronic men­dac­ity was dif­fi­cult to counter oth­er­wise. He ini­tially planned to pub­lish a re­cur­ring list of Trump’s lies to his fol­low­ers. On Septem­ber 20, 2016, the project took off thanks to a tweet from film­maker Michael Moore: “This Cana­dian jour­nal­ist, ev­ery sin­gle day in the Toronto Star, lists all the lies that Don­ald Trump spoke that day. Shames the US me­dia.” Dale rec­og­nizes that as the mo­ment his brand went global. It was over a year later, how­ever, on Sun­day, Oc­to­ber 1, 2017, when Dale wrote ar­guably the most vi­ral piece of jour­nal­ism of his ca­reer. At the time, Trump had been es­ca­lat­ing the rhetoric be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Py­ongyang. At 3:01 p.m., @re­aldon­aldtrump fired off a tweet: “Be­ing nice to Rocket Man hasn’t worked in 25 years, why would it work now? Clin­ton failed, Bush failed, and Obama failed. I won’t fail.” Dale

was stand­ing on a street cor­ner wait­ing to meet with his soft­ball team — the sport is a pas­time he counts as one of the high­lights of his Wash­ing­ton ex­is­tence. Dale read the pres­i­dent’s tweet, and the er­ror jumped out at him im­me­di­ately. He typed out his own tweet: “25 years ago, Kim Jong Un was 8.” He hit pub­lish just as his friends ar­rived. He checked his phone af­ter leav­ing the di­a­mond and re­al­ized the tweet’s im­pact. Be­fore long, it had been liked 207,312 times and retweeted nearly 77,000 times. Two days later, on Tues­day, Oc­to­ber 3, he woke up in his Wash­ing­ton apart­ment shortly af­ter dawn. He reached for his phone to see what Trump had tweeted in the night. He stared at the screen, dumb­founded: “@re­aldon­aldtrump blocked you.” He took a screen­cap, posted it to his Face­book page, and mes­saged his ed­i­tor. Be­fore the day was out, the Star read­ied a story about how its man in Wash­ing­ton had joined Stephen King, Rosie O’ Donnell, and one of Jimmy Kim­mel’s writ­ers on the pres­i­dent’s “blocked” list. That ar­ti­cle was pack­aged with one writ­ten by Dale him­self and seventy-six other sto­ries — all of which went into the next day’s edi­tion. Over the en­su­ing weeks and months, as Dale added to his tally of Trump lies, his fol­low­ers grew, and his re­port­ing —such as when he dis­sected the le­gal ram­i­fi­ca­tions be­hind Trump’s tweet on fir­ing na­tional-se­cu­rity ad­viser Michael Flynn for ly­ing to the FBI — no longer just at­tracted Cana­dian read­ers to the Star but drew them from all around the world. He had be­come the most fa­mous Star man in the his­tory of the news­pa­per. It made lit­tle dif­fer­ence. By the end of that year, Torstar had lost more than $29 mil­lion.

Founded by twenty-one strik­ing prin­ters and four ap­pren­tices in 1892, the Star has had a num­ber of near-death mo­ments in its his­tory. In 1899, it strug­gled to find its read­er­ship as it com­peted against the Globe as well as the Toronto Evening Tele­gram, the Toronto World, and the Mail and Em­pire. A group of Toronto elites, in­clud­ing Ti­mothy Ea­ton, pur­chased the Star and hired thirty-fouryear-old Joseph E. Atkin­son to save it. Atkin­son, who had made his name with the Globe as an Ot­tawa par­lia­men­tary cor­re­spon­dent, grew the Star’s sub­scriber base from 7,000 in 1899 to 37,000 by 1905. By 1909, he’d built the Star into the largest news­pa­per in Toronto. Four years later, he ac­quired a ma­jor­ity in­ter­est in the news­pa­per, which he ran un­til he died in 1948. Upon his death, he willed the Star in per­pe­tu­ity to the Atkin­son Char­i­ta­ble Foun­da­tion and had be­queathed to the foun­da­tion most of his wealth. But the Star soon found it­self at odds with the pro­vin­cial Tories of the day who, in 1949, en­acted the con­tro­ver­sial Char­i­ta­ble Gifts Act, mak­ing it il­le­gal for any char­ity or foun­da­tion to own more than 10 per­cent of a pri­vate com­pany. It’s hard to read the act as any­thing but adi­rect at­tempt to kill the Star. Ul­ti­mately, five trus­tees from the foun­da­tion’s board bought the pa­per from the foun­da­tion. In­cluded among them was Be­land Hon­derich (then Star ed­i­tor-in-chief ) who, to­gether with Joseph S. Atkin­son (Joseph E.’s son) and three oth­ers, pur­chased the Star for $25.5mil­lion in 1958 (the most any­one had paid for a news­pa­per), en­dow­ing it and their vot­ing trusts in the com­pany to fu­ture gen­er­a­tions of their fam­i­lies. As part of the deal, the five saviours swore an oath to up­hold the Atkin­i­son prin­ci­ples, which de­creed that the pa­per should al­ways stand for so­cial jus­tice as well as in­di­vid­ual and civil lib­er­ties. For the next forty years, the Star re­mained a dom­i­nant source for lo­cal, na­tional, and in­ter­na­tional news. It had a rep­u­ta­tion for land­ing seem­ingly im­pos­si­ble in­ter­views. This was thanks to its switchboard team: a leg­endary group of mostly fe­male re­searchers who had a knack for track­ing down any­one, any­where. (News­room lore is that they pin­pointed a source to a Lon­don sub­way plat­form and then called the tele­phone box near­est his lo­ca­tion, which he picked up.) Tenac­ity de­fined ev­ery­thing the Star did, and among its most tena­cious re­porters were Tim Harper and Rosie Di­manno. Harper joined the Star in 1982, when the pa­per was so flush that, as he put it, “you could have lunch in the news­room and be in the Caribbean cov­er­ing a riot by din­ner.” He was ap­pointed to the Wash­ing­ton bureau in March 2003 but, un­able to break any real ground against the Wash­ing­ton Post and the New York Times, pre­ferred to cover Amer­ica out­side the Dis­trict of Columbia. Af­ter they heard that the lev­ees had burst in New Or­leans in 2005, Harper and Lu­cas Ole­niuk, the Star’s rov­ing pho­tog­ra­pher, high­tailed it to the city in a car. For two weeks, they doc­u­mented the re­gion’s de­scent into hell. When po­lice beat a looter al­most to death in the streets, Ole­niuk was there to doc­u­ment it. When the bodies be­gan wash­ing up on the banks of the Mis­sis­sippi, Harper was there to re­port on it. He wasn’t the only Star re­porter on the ground. Di­manno had man­aged to talk her way into the French Quar­ter, where she filed daily dis­patches back to Toronto via a pay­phone on Bour­bon Street. The Star that Dale walked into in late May 2007 as an in­tern was op­er­at­ing at full tilt. The sub­prime-mort­gage cri­sis was still a year away, as was the Great Re­ces­sion and one of the most dras­tic drops in ad­ver­tis­ing the news busi­ness had ever seen. In the news­room, hun­dreds of re­porters ham­mered out copy on mas­sive wooden desks. Un­der some of those desks were ag­ing type­writ­ers stashed there when things went “dig­i­tal.” And in the cen­tre of the news­room were rem­nants of a pneu­matic tube that once served as their in­stan­ta­neous link to the old print­ing presses, which had been on

The Star’s re­searchers had a knack for track­ing down any­one, any­where. They once found a source on a sub­way plat­form in Lon­don.

“Our top­per­form­ing sto­ries al­most ev­ery day are the sto­ries we care about. It’s not wa­ter-skiing squir­rels.”

the first floor of the build­ing un­til 1992, when the Star opened the Vaughan Press Cen­tre north of Toronto. Dale took his seat among staff who still re­mem­bered when the old presses caused the en­tire news­room to vi­brate. At its core, the in­sti­tu­tion’s busi­ness strat­egy still re­sem­bled its Vic­to­rian be­gin­nings: pack the pages with news its ed­i­tors thought of in­ter­est or im­por­tant, bun­dle it with ads, and then hock it to a mass au­di­ence on the street. With more read­ers than any other Cana­dian news­pa­per, the Star could reach the largest share of the Toronto au­di­ence — with ad­ver­tis­ers pay­ing tens of thou­sands for a full-page ad. John Hon­derich, Be­land’s son, was the Star’s pub­lisher in 1996, when the news­pa­per started do­ing what ev­ery other news­pa­per of the day seemed to be do­ing: giv­ing away its con­tent on­line. In­dus­try logic was that the print busi­ness model could be fea­si­bly trans­ferred to dig­i­tal. All a news­pa­per had to do was at­tract enough eye­balls, and ban­ner ads would bring in the money. So when thes­tar.com went live, the news­pa­per be­lieved its ad­ver­tis­ing rev­enue was safe. Here’s what the Star couldn’t have an­tic­i­pated: it would take mil­lions of im­pres­sions on a ban­ner ad for it to gen­er­ate the same rev­enue as just one full-page ad in print. The num­bers never added up. This prob­lem was made worse by the rise of com­pa­nies like Face­book and Google, which both be­gan col­lect­ing far more data from their users than the Star or any other news­pa­per could have col­lected from their own sub­scribers or read­ers. Sud­denly any­one look­ing to ad­ver­tise to a mass Toronto au­di­ence could just cap­i­tal­ize on all the data Google and Face­book had col­lected on its users and plant tar­geted ads in­side a Star reader’s Face­book feed or Google search. Though the Star’s read­er­ship is ac­tu­ally larger now than it ever was (the pa­per and web­site av­er­age nearly two mil­lion read­ers a week­day), the pa­per has lost the ca­pac­ity to gen­er­ate the ad­ver­tis­ing rev­enue re­quired to fund its jour­nal­is­tic out­put. It’s a two-decade-old prob­lem that has been get­ting worse for all news out­lets. Among the first to re­act, the New York Times put up a pay­wall in 2011. Half of that news­pa­per’s rev­enue now comes from sub­scribers, many of them dig­i­tal and lo­cated out­side the city. A big part of the Times’s suc­cess has been its use of data sci­ence to an­a­lyze what read­ers are will­ing to pay for. It’s an evo­lu­tion­ary ap­proach to the news that stands to trans­form what the Times —and the Wash­ing­ton Post, which fol­lowed suit — cov­ers both in print and on­line. In the case of the Times, it pub­lishes around 200 sto­ries a day, but ac­cord­ing to a re­cent re­port out­lin­ing its 2020 plan, the news­pa­per also squan­ders re­sources on sto­ries “rel­a­tively few peo­ple read.” At present, the Globe and Mail is the only English daily in Canada that seems to have not suc­cumbed to the ail­ments of its peers. Like the Wall Street Jour­nal and Fi­nan­cial Times, the Globe and Mail long ago dis­tanced it­self from the metro­daily struc­ture and built its brand around busi­ness jour­nal­ism. Though it called it­self “Canada’s na­tional news­pa­per” well be­fore satel­lite tech­nol­ogy in the eight­ies al­lowed it to trans­mit its pages to presses across the coun­try for same-day na­tional dis­tri­bu­tion, the Globe and Mail has, for years, been widely con­sid­ered Canada’s busi­ness pa­per of record. For much of that time, it has been owned, in whole or in part, by Canada’s wealth­i­est fam­ily — the Thom­sons. While the news­pa­per’s fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion is not pub­licly dis­closed, its pub­lisher, Phillip Craw­ley, in­sists the Globe is prof­itable. He points to the news­pa­per’s pay­wall, which re­quires would-be read­ers to pay up to $311.50 a year to get ev­ery­thing that ap­pears in print and more. But there’s more to the Globe and Mail’s cur­rent busi­ness model. It also in­cludes the news­pa­per’s use of pro­pri­etary an­a­lyt­ics soft­ware that al­lows ed­i­tors to place a val­u­a­tion on a story within ten min­utes of it be­ing pub­lished on­line. “Sophi,” as the soft­ware is called, now com­petes with the age-old tra­di­tion of ed­i­tors us­ing their own judg­ment to de­ter­mine the most im­por­tant news of the day and al­lows an­a­lyt­ics to help de­ter­mine what sto­ries get placed where on the site and in the news­pa­per. In essence, the news­pa­per has be­gun to give its read­ers more of what the soft­ware says they want. When Sophi de­ter­mined Globe read­ers wanted more opin­ion, the Globe re­designed its week­end news­pa­per, fold­ing the stand-alone week­day Life and Sports sec­tions and in­sert­ing a twelve-page Opin­ion sec­tion. But the soft­ware has also changed the way Globe ed­i­tors judge their own busi­ness con­tent. They now know sto­ries about PR trou­bles at Tim Hor­tons en­gage Globe read­ers for a lot longer, and get far more so­cial-me­dia cir­cu­la­tion, than those about the Euro­pean mar­kets. For years now, the Star has been us­ing a num­ber of data- col­lec­tion tools — in­clud­ing soft­ware from Parse.ly, a New York–based an­a­lyt­ics com­pany—to amass its own ad­vanced met­rics on who its read­ers are and what they want to read. Not sim­ply what they click on but what they en­gage with, what they’re will­ing to spend five min­utes ac­tu­ally read­ing and then shar­ing via Face­book and Twit­ter — and what, fin­gers crossed, they will be will­ing to pay for. Ac­cord­ing to Cooke, the data points to pre­cisely the type of in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ism and so­cial-jus­tice re­port­ing that the pa­per has al­ways in­vested in. The kinds of sto­ries that take weeks and some­times months to re­port—and can cost hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars. “I am warmed that our top-per­form­ing sto­ries al­most ev­ery day are the sto­ries we care about,” says Cooke. “It’s not wa­ter-skiing squir­rels.” But even a city the size of Toronto — the fourth-largest in North Amer­ica — might not ac­tu­ally have enough peo­ple liv­ing within it will­ing to pay for those sto­ries. Which is why, con­trary to ev­ery in­stinct that would tell it to re­treat and for­tify its

cov­er­age lo­cally, the Star is re­dou­bling its ef­forts to find sto­ries and read­ers far beyond the GTA . April Lind­gren, a jour­nal­ism pro­fes­sor at Ry­er­son Uni­ver­sity, has been study­ing what she calls “lo­cal-news poverty” — what hap­pens when a com­mu­nity’s crit­i­cal in­for­ma­tion needs aren’t be­ing filled by news out­lets. Look­ing at the Star’s ex­pan­sion roll­out, Lind­gren says there’s cer­tainly room for im­proved jour­nal­ism in places like Edmonton and Cal­gary, “but is some­one go­ing to pay $20 a month for a bunch of sto­ries from the Toronto Star about their city? If I lived in Edmonton, I don’t know if I’d see that as good value for money.” She wor­ries the Star is putting too much stock in the ar­gu­ment that com­pelling jour­nal­ism will save it. “Sure, if you look at the Wash­ing­ton Post and the New York Times, you would be­lieve there is a model for this to work — but it’s not guar­an­teed. The Star is al­ready a pretty ro­bust source of lo­cal jour­nal­ism, and it’s strug­gling.”

Daniel dale’s face is broad­cast live into an au­di­to­rium filled with 125 jour­nal­ism stu­dents at Car­leton Uni­ver­sity. He’s on a big screen, an­swer­ing ques­tions from those look­ing to fol­low in his foot­steps. They ask him about the im­por­tance of facts in the cur­rent cli­mate. “I’ve en­cour­aged peo­ple to make calling out false facts a hall­mark and sta­ple of all cov­er­age,” he says. But he, as much as any­one, knows how un­ro­man­tic a job de­fend­ing the truth has be­come. The first thing Dale did when he in­her­ited the Wash­ing­ton bureau in 2015 was shut­ter the Star’s old of­fice at the Na­tional Press Build­ing. He moved ev­ery­thing into his apart­ment, stuff­ing books and files into his kitchen cup­boards, be­fore plant­ing him­self at his desk for days on end. Some­one asks how he got into the in­dus­try. He knows, given the state of the me­dia, that it’s a ques­tion that could help guide the next wave of jour­nal­ists. It’s also one of the harder ques­tions. He doesn’t ac­tu­ally know how to help any of them get to where he is. Dale doesn’t say it, but he’s not even sure what the in­dus­try will look like when these stu­dents grad­u­ate. He’s not alone. The Star has tried to adapt to the way in­for­ma­tion moves in the twenty-first cen­tury. But, like its peers, it seems af­flicted by a ver­sion of what busi­ness writer James Surowiecki called the “in­ter­nal con­stituency” prob­lem. The in­dus­try is filled with peo­ple who still re­call when their work was prof­itable and who sim­ply can’t be­lieve those days are gone. Ev­ery ac­tion the Star has taken to save it­self in the cur­rent cen­tury seems only to have brought it closer to its demise. De­spite boom­ing read­er­ship through­out the Ford saga, ad­ver­tis­ing plum­meted, and Torstar went from a $131 mil­lion op­er­at­ing profit in 2012 to just over $11 mil­lion in 2013. That same year, it ex­per­i­mented with a pay­wall but aban­doned it in 2015, be­liev­ing the old ad model could be repli­cated via a sin­gu­lar de­vice: the ipad. Few out­side the Star ever thought the in­vest­ment worth­while — ipad sales had peaked and had never re­ally taken off among younger read­ers, who pre­ferred their phones. But the Star pushed for­ward, be­liev­ing it could repli­cate the suc­cess that La Presse, the news­pa­per of record in French Canada, was hav­ing with its own app. La Presse had man­aged to dis­play con­tent so beau­ti­fully on the ipad that it at­tracted not just eye­balls but dig­i­tal ad­ver­tis­ers will­ing to pay enough to be on it. La Presse was al­lowed to phase out its print news­pa­per. Star man­agers were in­spired to try some­thing sim­i­lar in one of the most sat­u­rated me­dia mar­kets in the world. They bought the rights to use the tech­nol­ogy be­hind the app; hired more than seventy em­ploy­ees, many of them de­sign­ers; and be­gan to re­think how they pack­aged news. Vis­ual and in­ter­ac­tive con­tent was deemed as im­por­tant as the tra­di­tional in­ves­tiga­tive re­ports. John Cruick­shank, then pub­lisher, called Star Touch the big­gest change in sto­ry­telling in a cen­tury at the Star. The ven­ture cost about $40 mil­lion. To help pay for it, Torstar sold Har­lequin En­ter­prises to Ru­pert Mur­doch’s News Corp. For nearly four decades, the ro­mance pub­lisher had been a lu­cra­tive in­vest­ment, one of the best-per­form­ing di­vi­sions of Torstar’s op­er­a­tions. A big chunk of the $455 mil­lion sale went to­ward the com­pany’s debt and funded the ipad app, which, while pretty, never man­aged to at­tract any­where near enough read­ers or ad dol­lars to pay for it­self. As Star Touch fal­tered, the com­pany slashed other as­sets — news­pa­pers ac­quired in days of large-scale profit. On Jan­uary 29, 2016, Torstar shut down the Guelph Mer­cury, a pa­per founded the year of Con­fed­er­a­tion and the place where Dale got his start. Two months later, Cruick­shank, the pub­lisher who’d spear­headed the in­vest­ment in Star Touch, re­signed. Then, to help cover the ap­prox­i­mately $158 mil­lion in pen­sions and ben­e­fits to staff, the news­pa­per closed its Vaughan Press Cen­tre, sell­ing the prop­erty for $54.25 mil­lion. For the first time since 1892, the news­pa­per be­gan out­sourc­ing its print­ing to a third party. In June 2017, the Star fi­nally gave up on Star Touch. Thirty Star news­room em­ploy­ees lost their jobs in a sin­gle day. “The news that our tablet prod­uct will cease op­er­a­tion in a few weeks is ter­ri­ble,” wrote Cooke in a memo to staff. “There’s no way to spoon honey on to that.” Hon­derich and com­pany needed a new plan, fast.

Shortly af­ter his ar­rival in 2017, John Boyn­ton, Cruick­shank’s re­place­ment as pub­lisher of the news­pa­per and Torstar CEO, called a town hall in the news­room. Boyn­ton is a fifty-four-year-old turnaround spe­cial­ist with no real jour­nal­is­tic ex­pe­ri­ence but a record of suc­cess in run­ning Aero­plan and other multi-mil­lion­dol­lar loy­alty pro­grams. The job of sav­ing the Star has fallen to him. What he in­her­ited when hired wasn’t just the fate of Torstar’s 3,800 em­ploy­ees but the legacy of the Star’s costli­est and most valu­able re­source: its re­port­ing. Ac­cord­ing to sources, Boyn­ton, stand­ing near the empty desks of the men and women who’d been hired and then fired as a re­sult of Star Touch, looked at what was left of his staff and said: “We can’t be a de­part­ment store any­more.” The Star needed to trans­form into a pub­li­ca­tion less con­cerned with be­ing ev­ery­thing for ev­ery­one on the

streets of Toronto. It needed in­stead to do what tech com­pa­nies like Face­book and Google were do­ing — study its read­er­ship al­go­rith­mi­cally, learn what read­ers want, and stop feed­ing them what they don’t. “We’re go­ing to kill some sa­cred cows,” he said. The words alarmed many. Some­one asked what the Star would con­sider a sa­cred cow. “We need the data,” Boyn­ton replied. The re­sponse didn’t ease any con­cerns. In the old model, ev­ery reader counted. Soon, only those whom data sci­ence in­di­cates have a propen­sity to pay may end up mat­ter­ing to the Star — and any other news­pa­per still stand­ing af­ter the next pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. The trend won’t just re­de­fine the value of cer­tain jour­nal­ists but the value of cer­tain types of jour­nal­ism as well. As Boyn­ton’s strate­gic plan took shape, man­agers left for more stable jobs in academia and com­mu­ni­ca­tions, and union­ized re­porters be­gan wait­ing for the com­pany to of­fer its next buy­out. Then Hon­derich and the rest of Torstar’s ex­ec­u­tive team made a move to save the com­pany on rent. They packed up their of­fices on the sixth floor of the Toronto Star build­ing and re­lo­cated to the empty spa­ces out­side the news­room on the fifth. The Star had sold its head­quar­ters for $40 mil­lion in 2000, only to pay back a large por­tion of that money over a twenty-year lease. Twelve years later, the build­ing and ac­com­pa­ny­ing land were resold to Pin­na­cle, a condo de­vel­oper, for $250mil­lion. As part of the real es­tate de­vel­op­ment, the Star’s for­mer park­ing lot is be­ing turned into a ninety-five-storey condo tower. Many in the news­room fear that, when the lease ex­pires in 2020, their por­tion of the build­ing will be torn down and re­placed by yet an­other condo tower. Among the many ques­tions cir­cu­lat­ing among staff: Where will they go when the wreck­ing ball comes through the win­dow? It’s a ques­tion Hon­derich can’t yet an­swer. As are other ques­tions that have lin­gered since Fe­bru­ary 12, 2018 — the day the Star an­nounced it was sus­pend­ing its paid in­tern­ship pro­gram, the method by which Dale and hun­dreds of oth­ers got their start. The con­tin­ued col­lapse of the busi­ness had fi­nally made it un­ten­able for the Star to bring in a fresh crop of jour­nal­ists ev­ery year. The next day, dur­ing an in­ter­view with the Globe and Mail, Hon­derich pointed out that just 1 per­cent of the fed­eral money given to the CBC each year would float 50 per­cent of the Star’s news­room. In the same in­ter­view, he said that if aphi­lan­thropic bil­lion­aire (like Jeff Be­zos, who bought the Wash­ing­ton Post five years ago) was will­ing to take over the Star, now was the time to step for­ward. The day af­ter, Hon­derich took to the air­waves to rec­om­mend a change in tax rules to help drive ad­ver­tis­ers back to news­pa­pers and away from Face­book and Google. On Fe­bru­ary 14, Justin Trudeau stood in the com­mons and said his gov­ern­ment had al­ready made its choice in in­vest­ing in the CBC. The news­pa­per in­dus­try would just have to sort it­self out. On March 12, com­pe­ti­tion bureau of­fi­cials en­tered Hon­derich’s of­fice with a search war­rant. The bureau had be­gun in­ves­ti­gat­ing a con­tro­ver­sial Novem­ber 2017 deal in which Torstar and Postmedia swapped forty-one lo­cal com­mu­nity news­pa­pers. As part of the deal, Torstar aban­doned its ti­tles in Ot­tawa and Win­nipeg while Postmedia ceded the Greater Toronto Area, which is tra­di­tional Star ter­ri­tory. The ar­range­ment, which al­lowed both com­pa­nies to avoid com­pet­ing for what was left of lo­cal ad­ver­tis­ing dol­lars, at­tracted ire af­ter Torstar an­nounced it would im­me­di­ately shut­ter thir­teen of the sev­en­teen ti­tles it ac­quired, while Postmedia closed twen­tythree of twenty-four. In that mo­ment, as of­fi­cials combed through Hon­derich’s files, look­ing for ev­i­dence of col­lu­sion, the Star seemed in ab­so­lute dis­ar­ray. But the news­pa­per had al­ready qui­etly moved for­mer in­terns around the coun­try in a prepara­tory move for a fu­ture when it would be a na­tional brand. On April 10, the day Starmetro read­ers were redi­rected to the Star’s new page for each city, the news­pa­per be­gan the long process of shed­ding its iden­tity as a metro daily. On that day, Star re­porters walked past derelict docks where Star trucks were once filled nightly with bun­dles of news­pa­pers. Past the sign in the park­ing lot ad­ver­tis­ing the new high­rise con­dos to be built on the premise. Into the lobby and past the old lino­type ma­chine that once ar­ranged the words of Star men and women into col­umns of lead-en­graved text and then pressed that text onto pages. Up a slow el­e­va­tor to the news­room floor where, three weeks ear­lier, Cooke an­nounced he was leav­ing jour­nal­ism af­ter forty-nine years. He was re­sign­ing from the Star at a time when he saw “ev­ery ma­jor city and small city across this coun­try” ex­ist­ing in “a dark tun­nel.” No one in the news­room blamed him for leav­ing. Not even Hon­derich — a man born into the wealth of a news­pa­per his fa­ther helped save. The younger Hon­derich grew up want­ing noth­ing to do with the fam­ily busi­ness but has been fully im­mersed in its in­ner-most work­ings since join­ing as a re­porter in 1976. And while the Star gave him his for­tune, it has also cost him the ma­jor­ity of it. The to­tal value of his cur­rent shares, which a decade ago would have been worth over $115 mil­lion, now sits at less than $10 mil­lion. Hon­derich takes a seat in front of a mas­sive poster from his for­mer of­fice, a print from the launch of Metropo­lis, the 1927 dystopian film set a hun­dred years in the fu­ture, in which a “me­di­a­tor” is proph­e­sized to be the only thing ca­pa­ble of bring­ing to­gether the work­ing and rul­ing classes. Poignant decor for the man try­ing to keep Su­per­man’s news­pa­per from ruin. “I’ll keep at this for as long as I pos­si­bly can,” he says. “But you can’t carry on for­ever.”

Board chair John Hon­derich said that if a phil­an­thropic bil­lion­aire was will­ing to take over the Star, now was the time to step for­ward.

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