A screenshot of Toronto Standard‘s website, taken Tuesday afternoon.
For obvious reasons, you’ll never get an unbiased assessment of Toronto’s online media from us, but there’s no denying, at least, that the web has been getting crowded lately. Last January we heralded the arrival of Yonge Street, which has spent the past fourteen months quietly turning out nicely written, non-essential reading with the help of sponsorship from several sources, including the City—and, whoa, on second glance, also the Toronto Community Housing Corporation. (Does the auditor general know?) Last spring, OpenFile came to town with “several millions of dollars of angel investment from an anonymous Canadian corporate backer,” according to the Globe. Then they hired away our editor-in-chief, and now a bunch of Torontoist contributors write occasional stories for them (including—full disclosure—me).
Eye Weekly put out a want ad for online city writers not too long ago, and, more recently, in what has been interpreted by an inkier publication as “a major vote of confidence in online media,” St. Joseph Media, a company with deep roots in print, bought up the very site you’re reading this on. So it’s true that a rising tide lifts all boats, at least when the boats are a metaphor for bloggers and the tide is really money.
But 2011 hadn’t brought news of any new startups until recently, when something called Toronto Standard started sending around cryptic press releases promising “a daily, digital briefing on the life of the city, covering urban affairs, business, technology, culture and design—and all the sparks that happen in between.”
Set to launch on April 7 with web, tablet, and mobile versions, the new site will operate under the guidance of editorial director Christopher Frey. He’s a writer and radio journalist with over fifteen years of experience. He founded Outpost Magazine and won two National Magazine Awards for his work there. He has freelanced, recently, for a bunch of different places, including Monocle, the London-based global affairs and culture magazine that seems to be one of several antecedents for what the Standard wants to do.
Of the Standard, says Frey: “It is a general-interest sort of publication about Toronto.”
“But I think one of the things we’re doing, instead of going hyperlocal—which is a general trend even with some of the dailies to some extent—is, we’re looking at direction. We’re interested in Toronto and its place in the world.”
“There’d be lots of stuff from Toronto, but you’d also read stuff from Tokyo, or something from the Philippines, or something from Melbourne, Rio, Rotterdam.”
The site will mix short- and long-form writing with video journalism.
Every startup needs financial backing, and in this case it appears to be coming from Lee Polydor, whose company, Queen Street Partners, invests primarily in real-estate development. Polydor did not respond to requests for comment, but he registered one of the site’s domain names and has been tweeting about the project. We know from another source that the site is being financed by a Toronto real estate developer who owns the Burroughes Building at Queen and Bathurst streets, where the Standard‘s offices are located. The Burroughes Building is owned by Queen Street Partners.
It’s not yet clear whether Polydor is the sole investor, nor is it clear how the site plans to make money, though if it’s going to be by any means other than the usual (ad revenue), everyone at the Standard is doing a good job of keeping the secret.
Frey says the site has three editorial staffers, as well as a tech team. We’ve learned that Jason McBride, a well-known Toronto-based writer, is on board as a contributing editor. Several established local freelancers have been approached for contributions. Frey says payment will be “comparable to what the dailies would pay for the piece, and sometimes better.”
The name “Toronto Standard” originally belonged to a short-lived “monarchist, protestant” newspaper, published between 1848 and 1850, according to Frey and the Standard‘s press materials. The new site is “re-booting the Standard,” but in name only, presumably because monarchists and protestants are not a big iPad demographic.
Frey is conscious of the fact that he’ll be entering a competitive market.
“In some ways, we’re all in this together, but in other ways we are all competing with each other for people’s interest, for people’s time,” he says.
“What’s notable is that although everybody keeps saying that the media landscape is changing so quickly…this is a great time to experiment, to innovate, and I don’t see that happening in Toronto too much. And I’m hoping that we can be part of changing that story.”
That story is getting to be an old one, but it could use a few sequels.