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Toronto Life Goes Back to the Future

Earlier this week, Toronto Life killed off their blogs. The move was a surprising one, especially since the magazine was one of the few local print outlets that had finally started to figure out how to create interesting and original content online that was separate from but complimentary to what could be found in print.
According to Toronto Life‘s Online Editor, Matthew Fox, the magazine is “re-evaluating where we are investing our Web editorial dollars. Certainly, the work done by all our bloggers was top-notch, but our analysis of the reader numbers leads us to believe that there is a better approach.” Publisher Sharon McAuley told Masthead Online in no uncertain terms that the page views (and visit lengths, and comments) weren’t there. “We’ve decided,” she told Masthead, “that we need to tinker with [our strategy] some more.”
To that end, says Fox, “we are ending all the blogs on the site and planning for new items to appear through the end of 2008, and certainly in 2009.” On the table:

Toronto Life has several Internet projects in development. Many of these are blogs, but we are also striving to move into new editorial formats specific to the Web (newsletters, microsites, interactive material, expanded forums, etc.). We have recently launched our Best of Summer guide, as well as a series on new restaurants called “Just Opened.” The Toronto International Film Festival will receive a great deal of attention come September, while David Lawrason’s wine expertise will be re-packaged in a more engaging format. Plans are also underway to expand and deepen the quality of our listings service, as well as improve our search and navigation tools. Real estate, shopping and food themed blogs are also being considered.

In other words, Toronto Life‘s next step online will be a big one backwards, to unpolarizing, safe content that is friendlier to advertisers and far less interesting for readers.
The decision means that Philip Preville’s City State, still finding its footing, is over only one month after it began (though it was adapted from Preville on Politics, which started last March). Douglas Bell’s Spectator gets the axe, too, a bit of irony given that as recently as Wednesday Bell has regularly criticized print media for not understanding the web. Bell’s farewell post on Spectator went live earlier today, and, along with a notable hat tip to former Toronto Life editor and new Walrus interim editor John Macfarlane, Bell asked for “greater transparency and candour from our public officials and elites.”
He might as well have been referring to Sharon McAuley. While she asserted to Masthead Online that the decision to shut down the blogs was “intrinsic to the editorial process” and were “editorial decisions alone” that “the editors themselves made,” Bell disagrees. The shut-down was instead, he told Torontoist, “a consequence of what I think is to some degree a short-term financial decision. This was not a decision taken on the basis of whether it was good from an editorial point of view. I find that disappointing.”
Spectator logo by Barry Blitt, courtesy of Toronto Life.


  • n0wak

    The Toronto International Film Festival will receive a great deal of attention come September
    As opposed to all the other media in Toronto that ignore it?
    I always find it funny when certain institutions all of a sudden add “blogs” without any consideration for the format, expecting it to instantly generate traffic and discussion. It doesn’t work like that. If you provide good content people will come, eventually. It might take a while but quality tends to win out in the end. Unfortunately, those that seek a quick buck rarely have the patience for this. “short-term financial decision” sounds about right to me.

  • Green Sulfur

    I hope Preville finds somewhere else to blog. He was easy to rip sometimes but also worth the read because he brought a fairly reasonable voice to a subject that is made way more partisan than municipal politics should be.
    If Preville gets another chance, I’d only hope he could give his readers a little less whine.

  • Robsonian

    I’ll second n0wak here. Most people still don’t get blogs, especially ones associated with a magazine.
    The lack of comments on Preville’s blog struck me as alarming at first, but I think we’re all still dealing with the first wave of commenters in many respects; anyone familiar with the idiotic tone of the vast majority of comments posted after on-line news articles can see that.
    The connection, for me, is that online content (i.e. City State) offered under the aegis of an established print outlet tends to attract a clientele more comfortable in their role as readers.
    I believe it will be quite some time before the comments section replaces letters to the editor.
    Furthermore, I don’t know what to make of a blog maintained by a writer associated with a magazine. He’s hewing to the same position held by the paper, right? I mean, how much latitude is he going to get? Lord knows writers get in trouble when their personal blogs are contentious.

  • sniderscion

    I think the issue here (aside from budget) is narrowcasting and demographics. What are people who read the print edition of Toronto Life looking for? I’ve been a very casual reader over the years (i.e. once every six months or so) and have always thought the central purpose was as a food and lifestyle review source. Great info on wines, restaurants, events. Any other information (while welcome) always struck me as secondary. It doesn’t surprise me that they would back away from anything which would stray too far from this core; especially if they’re not getting much traffic out of it. Looks like they’re going through the same identity crisis that all print media has been experiencing; namely how to attract and retain their key demographics on the web as well as in print and how to stay relevant in changing times. God knows we need something better than as a good reference source. Unfortunate to see good features/writers being cut although with luck they’ll find a more appropriate home and a wider audience wherever they settle. The whole Blog universe is still evolving so big shakeouts like this are bound to continue until the business model stabilizes.

  • joeclark

    You failed to note that Fox essentially stated that Bert Archer (“Now less reprehensible!”) would be writing his own real-estate blog in the foreseeable future. I assume they see money in that sort of thing.