National News

Industry experts say StarMetro, Canada's last commuter daily, will be missed

By The Canadian Press

Published 1:06 PST, Fri November 22, 2019

Last Updated: 1:48 PST, Fri November 22, 2019

Industry experts say the pending closure of the StarMetro newspapers in Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Halifax and Toronto will come at a cost to some communities that still rely on the free commuter dailies for local news.

StarMetro's parent company Torstar — which also owns the Toronto Star — announced this week the five free newspapers will publish their final editions on Dec. 20.

The closures were a result of both a decline in print advertising volumes and a rise in readers using smartphones to consume news, the company said.

Christopher Waddell, a journalism professor at Carleton University, said the business model of a free commuter daily requires enough ad revenue to cover the entire cost of printing, delivering and managing the paper.

"It's just not economic to continue to print the paper," Waddell said, adding that free commuter dailies have been closing around the world.

Such closures create more challenges for young people and lower-income communities who can't access paid news, said April Lindgren, a journalism professor at Ryerson University.

"Everyone can use their phone and get access to Kim Kardashian and her latest antics, but if you want to know what city council did, you have to look to local media for that," said Lindgren, who researches local news. "If your local media is behind a paywall, that creates challenges for people who don't have the resources."

Genna Buck, an adult educator and former StarMetro employee based in Toronto, says the loss of the paper will leave a hole in people's news consumption.

Buck said her students would come to English classes with a StarMetro in hand so often that reading the paper became part of their daily class routine.

"Just because people would always have it, we started integrating it into our teaching," said Buck, who works at the West Neighbourhood House — a social services agency assisting immigrants in the city.

Rishi Nagar, a broadcaster at RED 106.7FM, a South Asian radio station in Calgary, said many new immigrants relied on free commuter dailies like StarMetro for local news and classifieds when they first arrived.

"It'll be harder for them to access that information online," said Nagar, explaining that older generations of migrants aren't always tech-savvy and often struggle with finding what they need online.

"They don't know how to use the internet, they don't have access or they don't have smartphones," he said.

Lindgren said the loss of the free dailies will also be a hit to the overall quality of reporting in each city.

"People tend to shrug this off and say, 'Well okay, there's still another local newspaper,'" said Lindgren. "But the reality is every time a local news outlet closes, it reduces the diversity of sources of news for people," she said.

A study Lindgren co-authored showed that 202 communities in Canada have lost 282 local news outlets since 2008, with most of the losses taking place in small and mid-size cities.

The StarMetro editions in Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Halifax and Toronto are the last English-language free commuter dailies in Canada. There are still two French-language commuter dailies in Montreal.

Torstar holds an investment in The Canadian Press as part of a joint agreement with subsidiaries of the Globe and Mail and Montreal's La Presse.

– Salmaan Farooqui, The Canadian Press

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