Following in the footsteps of The Globe and Mail, which launched a redesign on April 23, that good ol’ battleaxe Toronto Star arrived on the newsstand this morning with its own facelift (free today at most local retailers). And we actually like it.
Readers of print media tend to balk at change, and sometimes, if a look ain’t broke, it usually don’t need no fixin’ (see: Ontario logo redesign). But the newspaper industry is ridiculously competitive, and while no amount of radical surgery can save the Sun, the Star sits at the top of the heap with 2.2 million readers weekly and 400 editorial staff. A high-stakes revamp of a paper’s entire look can be a scary exercise in shareholder relations and hate mail management. “We know that some people dislike change,” said Editor-In-Chief J. Fred Kuntz in a May 19 column, “but no newspaper should stagnate.”
The Star’s new look, which hasn’t yet met a Garamond Narrow it doesn’t like, actually somewhat resembles the design of the Ottawa Citizen; a paper run by mortal enemies CanWest MediaWorks. We’ve discovered that the new Star seems to be much more readable, with a slightly larger type size and greater leading (pronounced “ledding,” which is the space between lines of text). It is also clearly apparent that the paper intends to focus more on local news, especially from the GTA—a formerly standalone section that is being melded right into the world news of Section A. In fact, the Star is now branding itself as “The Voice of the GTA” in their nameplate banner.
It’s also going to be a bit skinnier, with an inch shaved off the width. The new size starts rolling off the presses in August, with all presses converted by October. In their somewhat overly ebullient press release, the new size is touted as “easier to open” (wha?) and “greener, more environmentally friendly.” Mind you, printing 500,000 weekly copies of the country’s thickest paper isn’t exactly sustainable environmentalism, but it’s still half a million less inches of newsprint per week, we guess. A large aspect of the new layout structure is also unabashedly meant to appeal to advertisers, who will buy in modular units instead of the per-line standard format.
What interests us more, however, is the relatively new blog the Star launched, with the obvious intention to appeal to a younger, more web-savvy and allegedly hipper readership (like Torontoist readers?). Dubbed Sketch, the blog features more, um, bloglike content, with short and intentionally pithy remnants of arts and entertainment news mined from the paper’s staff. Now, we’re no experts on what blogging is all about—waitaminnit, yes we are—but Sketch is totally missing its mark. The posts are dry, infrequent, a little too try-hard, and severely lacking in much needed visuals. Sadly, one constant seems to say it all: Comments (0)
The Star Media Group originally launched a much better effort, Paved, at the end of 2005, which had a great logo and lasted for less than a year. Promoted at the time in little corners of the
The National Post has also recently dipped some toes into the blogosphere with more success—their entries on Posted are actually more like repurposed newswire material, so there’s less risk of embarrassment when trying to seem cool or current, and the content is often quirky and interesting. At least both the Post and the Star allow reader comments, unlike some wannabe blog facsimiles from other mainstream media outlets.
We’re usually pretty picky about all things design, so we were pleasantly surprised to find that the Star‘s new look pretty much delivers on its promises, and we’re all for the increased coverage of general interest “lifestyle” content. As for online, the Star Media Group also just launched Wheels.ca, meant as a shot across the bow of CanWest’s Driving.ca, and the Star‘s main web portal was entirely redesigned back in January. But the blogs—oy. Sketch is a barren wasteland that can’t hold a candle to the linked sites in its own sidebar (of which Torontoist is one, at least for now), but then there was the engaging azerbic blog, woefully killed dead by the administration after Antonia Zerbisias lost control over runaway comments (usually involving arguments over Israel and feminism).
So—lots afoot at the Star these days, and while they seem to have a winner for the new printed edition, we respectfully suggest that blogs ain’t their bag. After all, the Urban Dictionary defines “sketch” as something that is “a little strange or out of place.” ‘Nuff said.