Torstar has moved aggressively in recent years to create, buy and foster niche websites that target narrow groups of people: parents, homeowners, fashionistas, car-buyers, job-hunters. In many cases, these websites are not connected to any of the old media brands. Few carry any of the public service watchdog journalism that was at the heart of old-fashioned newspaper companies. In many cases – just look at Wagjag and Workopolis -- they don’t carry any editorial content at all.
Consider Torstar’s recent buying spree. The company sold off its share of CTV and spent a bunch of the cash on Autocatch.ca, a classified site for autodealers; the Kit, a digital beauty site; Foodscrooge, a site for cheap food; and increased its stake in the couponing sites Save.ca and Tuango.ca. It also increased its stake in Metro.
This is a smart boardroom move. Torstar is capitalizing on the Internet’s ability to deliver ever-more-refined segments of the consuming public to discriminating advertisers. But it does nothing for journalism. It can’t be determined from the quarterly report, but it seems very unlikely that the growth in digital ad revenues is connected to the kind of stories that build a strong, open and honest society, the kind of stories that most journalists love to do.
The good news is that Torstar is muddling through. It is trying new stuff and finding new ways to make money, and some of that money will surely flow to what used to be its core business. The bad news is that none of the good news is directly related to journalism – or journalists.
I am not sure how surprising this should be. It has always been thus: the ads support the news, and not vice versa.