A newspaper with a difference

Today I came across a very poignant article about how the mainstream Canadian newspaper The Toronto Globe is reinventing itself. Splashy headlines, interesting features and a management ready to look at newspapers with a completely fresh perspective are some of the reasons for the revival of this once staid newspaper.

Maybe the TOI will take heed of this.

The headline on the front page was printed with a typeface appropriate for announcing the Second Coming. “ARE WE MISSING THE BOAT?” it asked, underscoring the question’s urgency by rendering each letter in a vivid shade of red. Elsewhere on the page was the scarlet and gold image of a billowing Chinese flag.

This is Canada’s establishment daily?

Many consider it such, and it used to be downright staid. But, as evidenced by the “missing the boat” front page of Toronto’s Globe and Mail last fall, leading into an article on the importance of Canada connecting with China, the Globe has been conducting bold page-one “experiments” to keep ahead of the pack. Under the direction of editor Edward Greenspon, the paper has moved toward oversize headlines, jumbo art and a generally offbeat approach to presenting the news. (For an earlier article on China, the headline and most of the front-page text were in Chinese characters, with a warning in English: “If you can’t read these words, better start brushing up.”)

Sorry for not providing the actual URL of the story. Its in a paid section of the WSJ, but the entire text of the article is posted below.

Splashy Front Pages Help Once-Staid Newspaper Prosper

By ELENA CHERNEY; Wall Street Journal February 27, 2006; Page B1

It’s an approach that Mr. Greenspon believes is helping to boost circulation and advertising at the Globe, which has national reach. The figures bear him out. In contrast with most U.S. newspapers, which are suffering from declining circulation and seeing their share of advertisers’ dollars shrink, the Globe is selling more papers and winning advertisers away from the three other daily papers that serve Toronto, Canada’s largest city and home to one-quarter of the nation’s population.

For the six months ended Sept. 30, the Globe’s circulation climbed 5% to an average of 335,013 on weekdays. During the same period, average U.S. daily newspaper circulation declined by 2.6%; and among the country’s biggest 20 papers, as measured by circulation, only one, the Newark, N.J., Star-Ledger, gained circulation. The Globe’s circulation makes it comparable in size to such U.S. newspapers as the Portland, Ore., Oregonian, and the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, both of which rank toward the bottom of the top-20 list and saw circulation declines.

“We’re having a good spell,” says Phillip Crawley, the paper’s British publisher. The Globe’s share of the Toronto newspaper advertising market increased by 1.4% in the first nine months of the year.

Media buyers say the Globe, a broadsheet, has succeeded because of its firm hold on the country’s most affluent readers, with particular strength in Toronto, the country’s financial capital. The paper’s parent is Toronto media concern Bell Globemedia Inc., which also owns one of Canada’s two big private TV networks, CTV.

In 1998, the Globe was threatened when press baron Conrad Black launched the National Post, an upstart conservative daily broadsheet, igniting a fierce newspaper war with the Globe as well as Toronto’s two other dailies, the midmarket broadsheet Toronto Star and the tabloid Toronto Sun. With the attack from the Post, which aimed squarely at the Globe’s high-end demographic and sought to build a strong Toronto presence, “the strategy was very simple: maintain our strengths, not discount cover price or ad rates,” says Mr. Crawley.

To strengthen its hold on upscale readers, the Globe added new sections and features. “My feeling was the focus was too narrow,” Mr. Crawley says, with too much emphasis on business and political news. The paper added a weekly book-review section, expanded its sports section and increased its style, fashion and health coverage.

To capitalize on the hot housing market, the paper created a weekly real-estate section that quickly gained a loyal following among readers. The section features ads, details on recent home sales and staff-written features on architecture, renovation and dÃ(C)cor.

The Globe is widely viewed as having won the newspaper war. Mr. Black, who backed the Post as a pet project, has been ousted as chairman and chief executive of Hollinger International Inc. and faces criminal fraud and racketeering charges in the U.S. Before Mr. Black was engulfed by scandal, Hollinger’s high debt level forced him to sell the Post, along with many of Canada’s other big-city dailies, to CanWest Global Communications Corp., Winnipeg, Manitoba.

When Mr. Black was running the Post, he viewed it as a vehicle for gaining a voice in Canadian politics and appeared willing to spend heavily to win a following. Courting the Globe’s upscale readers, the Post launched such features as a book section, a society page and columns by well-known writers. As a result, even stalwart Globe advertisers flirted with the new paper.

On the first day the Post published, in October 1998, high-end menswear retailer Harry Rosen, a longtime Globe advertiser, launched a campaign in the Post featuring the paper’s editor in chief, Kenneth Whyte, wearing a three-piece Harry Rosen suit. But the Post lost millions in its first three years. And after CanWest bought it, the new owners slashed staff and gutted popular sections in an effort to break even. When readers abandoned the slimmed-down paper, CanWest brought back some sections but is still working on stemming losses, a company spokesman says. Harry Rosen now places most of its ads in the Globe, says Larry Rosen, chief executive of the closely held Toronto company.

While the Post’s problems are good news for Messrs. Crawley and Greenspon, the Globe faces the same challenge from the Internet and television as do other North American dailies. Many of its traditional advertisers say they are looking increasingly at other media.

Rick White, vice president of marketing for Bank of Nova Scotia, Toronto, says the bank advertises in the Globe because of its national reach and also because of its financial Web site, Globeinvestor.com. “We’ve seen some pretty good results through that,” Mr. White says, adding that he buys a package of print and Web ads. But over the past few years, the bank has decreased its print advertising by between 30% and 40% and has added mostly TV ads, Mr. White says. The bank’s goal is to reach 18-to-44-year-olds and add new retail clients, he says. “We believe we can get a much broader reach with TV.”

Roger Dunbar, the Disney theme-parks executive hired to head the Globe’s marketing efforts 18 months ago, has pushed his sales force by creating contests and has commissioned market research to tweak some sections of the paper and Web site. Last fall he dispatched researchers to car dealerships to learn more about how prospective car buyers use newspapers and Web sites. The paper has launched a project called “Re-imagination,” in which 200 Globe employees are being divided into teams to come up with new editorial and advertising ideas.

Mr. Greenspon says he doesn’t know what kinds of change will result from the staff-driven makeover. But he says he realizes his paper’s relative success may not be good enough in the long run. “Newspapers are falling off the cliff,” he says. “But we’re at the back.”

One Comment

  1. Jack February 28, 2006

    Enjoy your posts a lot. Here is a book to recommend to you: China’s global reach by a leading Chinese commentator George Zhibin Gu. It is possibly the best book on China’s current affairs and relations with the world.

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