Fact Checking the Toronto Star

[The Toronto Star May have Some of its Own Explaining to Do]


I write stuff.  Every-so-often I write stuff that folks like to read.  Delving into the skunk works of a major daily media outlet is (honestly) not high on my list of preferred subject matter.

Legitimate “ink-stained wretches” have a kindred spot in my heart.  History has recognized how the “fifth estate” has been essential to healthy society.  Since Charlemagne first described “vox populi”  as a “dangerous democratic idea” scribes and writers have seen the inside of more than a few prison cells for expressing views unpopular to one regime or another for (now) almost 400 years.

Shortly following the cold-blooded murder of 298 innocent passengers aboard Malaysian Airline flight MH17, a member of our fraternity was scooped up, off the streets of Donetsk by pro-Russian militants.

You will NEVER persuade me to exhibit anything but praise for legitimate writers of fact who attempt to present balanced view points.  However (!!!) there are others who sully the reputation of the fraternity by attempting to create issues in order to bolster failing newspaper sales.

The fast-food industry recognized (long ago) that “sizzle sells steaks” and that by simply venting the enticing kitchen aromas into the neighborhood, they could create walk-in customers.

Go to any public library and you will witness a phenomenon of now aging “me-generation” – people are reading less and less.  In an era when fast-food replaced home-cooked meals, there has evolved a “grab-information-and-run” way of assimilating information.

Far too many readers fall victim to their own unwillingness to read and assess issues before forming an opinion. It is often said that many believe that simply by quickly scanning the headlines, they are (somehow) informed.

The dailies (that is daily newspapers) throughout Canada rely on two sources of income: readership and advertising. By selling copies of the daily paper and by selling advertising space, the dailies derive their income.  As readership declines, those corporations and businesses in the habit of purchasing advertising space are less willing to pay full price for space on the pages of the dailies.   Similarly, the quality of writers employed has a direct co-relationship to the amount of money the daily paper can afford.  For years, the axiom, “pay peanuts, get monkeys” has applied to almost any commercial venture. Newspapers are NOT our watchdogs nor are they entirely focused on public good.

The internet site, “Newspapers of Canada” is is an independent agency from which potential advertisers can assess daily readership numbers of all the major dailies in Canada. Their “Newspaper Audience Databank” (NAD) makes a few statements that are well-worth considering when any member of the public assesses things such as motive, integrity and editorial standards. It can be suggested that any media outlet that is facing declining readership may be suspect of resorting to stunts and gimmicks to rejuvenate its readership.  When I go into any MacDonalds in the morning I receive free/gratis my own personal copy of the Toronto Star.  The parent corporation has arranged a wide spread bulk or blanket purchase of stacks of the daily copy of the Toronto Star.  These copies are purchased for negligible price per copy. For MacDonalds, it is a “nice” thing to do for its clients and for the “Star” these cheap sale numbers roll into daily readership numbers and mask the fact that sales of the paper are failing.

I read a recent op-ed piece by one of the Star middle-managers as she went about defending the accuracy of a tiring and constant series of articles contained in her paper over (now) almost a full year.  Those articles have been incessant and dogged.  They speak about one “writer’s” vision of a scandal.  The odd thing is: when I measure the Star’s focus on this single issue to that of the other dailies (the Globe, the Sun and the Post) there is no similar interest in the allegations offered in the Star.

That, to me is odd and raises questions. The other dailies have full-time professional journalists employed to gather and report news.  I have not been able confirm that the writer of these articles at the Star is even a full time employee.

But, since the Star would wish us to accept each of that particular writer’s statements as factual, here is an example of the Star’s version of truthfulness.  According to NAD (see above) the Star has had the SECOND LARGEST DECLINE IN READERSHIP From 2007 through 2011.  NAD goes on to state that, “the Star’s overall readership declined during 2013 (at about the time that this writer launched this series of articles). The NAD points out that the Star’s readership dropped by (another) 7% in that same period.

The NAD found that during weekdays (Monday through Friday) the actually had 252,743 daily readers (CCAB/CMCA 12 months ending December 2011 / ABC Average March/September 2011, –  http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/0/0f/Canadian_daily_newspapers_circulation_by_province_%282011%29.pdf) .

Do you want to measure that Star’s credibility as to its own readership numbers?  The Star claims that each day, 821,000 readers in “GTA” (alone) pick up its paper.(Star Business section; Tue Apr 22 2014; http://www.thestar.com/business/2014/04/22/toronto_star_remains_countrys_mostread_paper.html)

Being a skeptic, even I can see that there is quite a difference between 252,743 daily readers (Nationally) and 821,000 readers (in the GTA).

By all means, folks should read more and inform themselves. But understand this: just because a newspaper prints a story (no matter how many times) does not make the story fact based.  The near absence from the competitor dailies of the alleged “scandals” in Brampton JUST might be telling you something.

Gosh, there are numerous similar communities such as Oshawa, Richmond Hill etc. that are potential sites in which the Star can continue this plan IF readers there are as gullible as some local readers. For me, I would much prefer that this (particular) writer attempt to wrap his mind (???) around issues that we care about.  The health care crisis in Brampton and how a walk-in clinic is NOT a hospital would be a great place to begin.

Then, again – it may not be the type of sizzle that would sell the steak called the Star.  Note to Star editorial board: get your own numbers straight before delving into municipal financial reports..

You can follow my musings on Twitter @LlloydFournier1. Join me.


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