Research prompts vast changes at Star

Avery public metamorphosis is taking place at The Toronto Star.When it is finally completed later this year, it will be the Star's $400-million answer to the question, 'What do newspaper readers want?'The changes readers have seen, and will see, in The...

Avery public metamorphosis is taking place at The Toronto Star.

When it is finally completed later this year, it will be the Star’s $400-million answer to the question, ‘What do newspaper readers want?’

The changes readers have seen, and will see, in The Toronto Star are the product of years of market research.

Press Centre

They have culminated in the new Press Centre, in Vaughn, Ont., one of the most technologically advanced newspaper printing facilities in North America.

The Press Centre, coupled with a new design to take full advantage of the capabilities of our new presses, will meet our readers’ expectations in key areas of size, appearance and content.

The Star’s size emerged as an issue in market surveys beginning in the late 1970s.

Readers told us they liked the convenience offered by sections in a traditional broadsheet, but said the Star was too tough to read on the subway and took up too much room on the table.

With the decision in the early 1980s to replace the existing Vickers and Crabtree presses at One Yonge Street, the question of size became critical.

Once the web size has been determined, new presses are custom-built to those specifications, and there is no turning back.

Investment

With a $160-million investment in presses alone at stake, selecting a size our readers wanted was vital.

Different sizes were shown to focus groups and the choices were eventually narrowed to three.

Those three were shown to about 500 readers, who chose the format now in place as the most convenient.

The new size, which trims 1.25 inches from the top and one inch from the side of the existing 24-inch x 13.5-inch broadsheet, has had a major psychological impact on readers, according to Mike Trudeau, the Star’s manager of marketing research and information.

Trudeau says readers perceive a huge difference in handling the paper that goes beyond the relatively small reductions in page size.

The most pleasant surprise, and a testament to the effectiveness of the market research, has been overwhelming acceptance of the new size and the almost total lack of complaints concerning the new format.

Easier to handle

Coupled with demands for a paper that was easier to handle, market research said readers wanted a more colorful and contemporary-looking product.

Trudeau says the crisp black-and-white and color reproduction achieved to date has been as important as size in generating the impression the new paper is easier to read.

And further improvements can be expected when production is transferred entirely to the new plant.

Just as important to the Star are the opportunities created for advertisers by the increased availability of color and the improved reproduction quality.

Advertisers had long-standing complaints about both black-and-white and color reproduction quality and the lack of color positions in the Star.

The new MAN Roland presses offer substantially more color positions and greatly improved quality for advertising purposes. Advertisers have been taking advantage of it.

Ford Motor Company of Canada recently ran full-color, double-truck advertisements in the front and sports sections, and Eaton’s has placed a number of full-color clothing ads.

Both Labatt and Molson launched their new ice beers with color ads.

In addition to dramatic changes in size and appearance, readers will also see substantial editorial changes in the Star.

In 1991, the Star commissioned Goldfarb Consultants of Toronto and Minnesota Opinion Research of Minneapolis, to find out what people wanted to read in the Star.

Readers asked for more local news, specifically about crime, more news about health, the environment and the economy.

While they did not want the ‘McNews’ type of coverage which USA Today has been criticized as providing, readers did not want long essays on every news story of the day either.

Readers wanted an easy, informative read.

Discipline

The Press Centre will expand the ability of the Star to meet a number of those demands, while imposing discipline on story length because of the new size.

The new presses will allow for more zoned editions, featuring local news coverage and carrying advertising from local retailers who would not normally advertise in the Star.

As well, new features to attract new reader groups including young people and teens will be introduced when production is moved entirely to Vaughn.

To our existing readers and advertisers, the new Star will speak for itself.

Even with the on-going changes, reaction has been positive and we will reinforce that with an extensive, in-paper advertising campaign.

However, the changes also present the Star with a major opportunity to increase circulation and readership.

In the past, major circulation gains have been experienced with the introduction of major new features or products, such as the Sunday Star or freestanding sections such as Fashion, Business Today and Wheels.

The new product, according to Star Communications Director Fred Ross, presents the newspaper with an even greater opportunity to attract new readers.

After all, the changes now being made are in response to what readers said they wanted.

Teaser campaign

The Star recently launched a teaser campaign on billboards in Metro Toronto with the tagline,’It’s almost out of the bag.’

Radio, tv, movie trailers and outdoor media will all be used in promoting the new product.

The end result will be a newspaper that will carry the Star and its readers into the 21st century.

Brian Fox is manager, promotion and educational services at The Toronto Star.