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Toronto Life Goes Back to the Future

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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.

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