This morning, many Grid boxes were marked—and connected to others—with chalk drawings. Photo by Harry Choi/Torontoist.
Following our interview with The Grid publisher/editor-in-chief Laas Turnbull last month, we admit we were a little worried how the revamp of Eye Weekly would turn out. When a publication wheels out phrases like “younger” and “hipper” to describe its changed focus, we worry the result will be branded with dumbed-down editorial and design elements that try too hard to be of the moment that they miss the point and are dismissed by more than one demographic.
Thumbing through the first issue of The Grid and clicking around the accompanying website in the hours after it was put to bed laid many of these worries to rest—our first impression is of a sharp paper with few of the awkward elements that accompany publication launches.
The magazine-style design is easy to read, thanks to a clean layout that makes good use of eye-friendly white space. The four main sections (City, Life, Culture, and The List—or Timewasters, online) are subtly but easily distinguished by their colour-coding. Online navigation has improved via flowing dropdowns that don’t require you to jump to another page for more stories.
Some design elements work better in one format than the other: the giant timestamp squares give a good sense of when a story was happening or when a photo was taken in the print version, but online these graphics feel unnecessary, since timestamps mark when each piece was published.
Overall, The Grid’s new website is on trend, following the stylings of sites like Open File in encouraging user-generated content by enticing readers to “join The Grid” and share news tips, photos, reviews, and videos. Readers are also encouraged to submit their websites for consideration and for inclusion in a curated list of blogs, though based on the categories currently listed, this only applies if your site spotlights fashion, food, or music.
Reader interaction extends to the neighbourhood section, which breaks down published stories so that OIMBY readers (only interested in my backyard) can zero in on those pieces. The city is broken down into 40 nabes with geographic boundaries that may be debated (if we want to get technical, Wychwood Barns was never part of the old city of York). Apart from Downsview and Leaside, neighbourhoods outside the old city of Toronto boundaries are placed into their former suburban entities—for example, residents of Mimico and Rexdale will check the Etobicoke section for local stories. This section should reveal which backyards of the city The Grid is truly engaged with.
Photo essays, such as the two-page spread on the Toronto Police Marine Unit, show promise, and hint at the future use of photojournalism as employed by Life magazine during its heyday. We also liked the three-and-a-half page line of local chefs used to lead off the feature section on food, since we didn’t have to squint at the subjects in a compressed shot. The use of a full-page vox pops photo on page three was awkward though, as it looked like an ad on first glance—this feature might benefit from switching spots with the contents page.
Writing remains one of the publication’s strengths. Longtime columnists like Jason Anderson, Kate Carraway, Edward Keenan, and Sarah Liss carry on as if there haven’t been any format changes, so readers’ feelings toward their work, whether adoration or revulsion, shouldn’t change. (We especially liked Keenan’s column on politicians who love portraying Toronto as a craphole, which was accompanied online by a shot of a screwfaced Tim Hudak.) David Fleming launches his new real estate column with doubts about how well the redevelopment of Regent Park will turn out for former residents unlikely to be able to afford to return, and for investors who snapped up the new properties. New feature writer David Sax (Save the Deli) offers up two longer pieces in the special food section, one spotlighting non-traditional eating venues and the other the duo behind Black Hoof. We are relieved to see that the auto section that was cut and pasted from Grid parent Torstar’s lead publication was cut, not pasted into the new weekly, but we miss departed features like Shawn Micallef’s city columns.
Less unexpected: a petty reaction from rival weekly Now. It doesn’t seem coincidental that a “sellout issue” hits the streets the day The Grid debuts, with editorial that takes aim at a certain “faux alt weekly” that “folded” last week. Now editor/publisher Michael Hollett’s lead piece on how his paper has resisted selling out to suitors like Torstar and the Village Voice smacks of the self-righteous air of moral superiority that distinguishes Now’s editorial line. But then, we’d be disappointed if they had published anything less than that.
We suspect Now looks upon any stage in Eye Weekly/The Grid’s journey from a rough-looking, booze-soaked paper 20 years ago to the polished product that appeared yesterday as a sellout. While some readers will miss rough edges like sex ads that lingered on through last week, and others may cry “too professional!” we suspect that as long as the content quality remains high and the interactive tools stimulate good ideas, the paper will draw readers to its grid-covered boxes.
Photos by Harry Choi/Torontoist.