Sunday, December 12, 2010

Toronto Paper Comparison: A Reader's Perspective

Newspapers periodically release circulation numbers and various readership studies. The release of the numbers includes percentage increases, number of readers and comparisons to previous years. The papers obviously try to portray the numbers in a positive light towards their readership that basically says "hey we are number one!". So many numbers and bragging it makes a reader's head spin.

This past October my wife found on a free subscription for the Saturday Toronto Star and Monday to Saturday delivery of the National Post and the Globe & Mail.  So each Saturday until next weekend we will receive three newspapers on your doorstep.  I've found this to be a great opportunity to investigate which newspaper I prefer to read based on various aspects that I, as a reader, look for in a paper. I explore these various aspects below for the deliveries of the Toronto Star, Globe & Mail and National Post.

Delivery: The first and most obvious is delivery of the newspaper itself.  For each of the papers I requested front door delivery and all promised delivery before 6:00 A.M.  Thus, every morning of delivery I should have a copy of the paper at my front door at 6:00 A.M.  Here is how the papers ranked:

1. National Post - Only had one missing paper the first Saturday.  After that, I've never had an issue with the paper not being there.   The paper has always come dry and on my front porch.

2. Toronto Star - The carrier on our route delivers the paper closer to 7:00 A.M. on a Saturday since subscription started.  On weekends this may not be such a big issue.  However, for some this may be an issue if they leave for work early before 7 and hope to take the morning paper with them on their commute (e.g. subway, bus, etc.) or to work. Otherwise the paper has been properly delivered. 

3. Globe & Mail - Over the past two weeks the paper has failed to show up on first attempt and sometimes many after that:

a) The first time my wife called circulation.  Circulation had an automatic recording saying there would be no delivery for the Globe & Mail that day and two copies would be delivered on the next day.  Well we waited for the paper to show up the next day and there was only one edition.  

b) The second time it didn't show up I called at 6:50 A.M. and was promised delivery within 90 minutes.  Nothing showed up after 120 minutes (i.e. 2 hours).  So I called again. I was promised again delivery.  Nothing.  The third call, the Customer Service Representative said I was basically out of luck and the next day I should have the regular paper. 

c) Then third time this past week I called and the Globe & Mail Circulation had an automatic recording saying there was an emergency situation at their place and they couldn't pick up the phone.  I called back 30 minutes later and there was a recorded message saying delivery of the paper was delayed until at least 11:00 A.M.  By 10:00 A.M. we had the paper delivered.

If we were paid Globe & Mail subscribers, we obviously wouldn't be pleased.  But as a free trial, the Globe & Mail fails miserably on delivery.

Customer Service:  We've had to call all three Customer Service Centres for the papers. Each paper was ranked based on, how annoying their automated systems were, how long after we dialed in we had to wait to speak to a live person and were the Customer Service Reps able to assist us in resolving our issues.

1. National Post - Called once about a missed delivery.  The Customer Service agent picked up within 30 seconds and had a new paper delivered within an hour. 

2. Toronto Star - Called to cancel our trial subscription.  The Customer Service agent was more interested in figuring out why we were cancelling and then offering us another paid trial offer.  Bottom line, if we were interested in continuing we would inquire about another offer to further our subscription.  

3. Globe & Mail - Called around five times to have the paper delivered in the first place.  An automated voice recognotition system picks up and asks you a bunch of questions in appearance of trying to help.  One time I called and told the automated systemd "missed delivery".  The system responded if I would like to add the Sunday New York Times to my subscription. I responded "no" and then it kept asking me what I was calling.  After repeating the "missed delivery" fiasco above two more times I hung up and retried.  Bottom line, every time I called in with questions on my account (i.e. to cancel the trial subscription or a missed delivery) I end up at a live person anyway.  Is it really hard to train a live customer service person to answer simple questions like: 1. "How much longer do I have on my subscription?" 2. "The paper didn't come today, can I have a redelivery?" After all the Globe & Mail has been around for over a hundred years, newspaper delivery on specified days to subscribers homes on time shouldn't be rocket science anymore.   To make matters worse, I can't remember ever waiting less than 5 minutes to talk to a live person,  but again I kept being reassured that "your call was important to us" and that there were "higher call volume".

Ottawa Bureau Coverage (Parliament Hill):  Newspapers that provided in depth coverage of the House of Commons and other goings on at Parliament Hill tended to rank better.  This coverage included the day to day goings on by the reporters to analysis and opinion by columnists.  

1. Toronto Star: The Star excels at covering Parliament Hill with in depth articles written by veteran newspaper reporters who know the workings of Canadian politics.  From the day to day coverage by Bruce Campion-Smith and Allan Woods  to the columns by Chantel Hebert and James Travers and in depth coverage by senior writers Susan Delacourt and Linda Diebel, it is hard to beat this coverage. 

2. Globe & Mail:  Not to be outdone, the Globe & Mail has a decent set of writers as well (e.g. Gloria Galloway, Jane Taber, John Ibbitson).  They are close to what the Toronto Star has in terms of quality.  However, being a "national focused" newspaper instead of a "Toronto focused" the coverage doesn't really tell me how the parliamentary decisions really affect those that live in and around Toronto.

3. National Post: The Post has gobbs of commentary by John Ivision (not to be confused with John Ibbitson of the Globe & Mail) but the straight news isn't really lacking.   There really is no memorable writers from the National Post that seem to be able to bring the straight goods from Parliament Hill without some sort of "analysis" or "comment" label being associted with their name.   However, the commentary by John Ivison and the odd feature article from the National Post's writers or associated writers from the Post's sister papers do provide some interesting reading.  But overall, the National Post needs to either grab a writer from somewhere else or grow a Parliamentary Bureau reporter that can dig into the goings on at Parliament and give the readers the straight goods without the bias that a columnist would present. 

Greater Toronto Area (GTA) News: Like the Ottawa Bureau Coverage, the GTA should have both reports of what is going on at City Hall (i.e. Toronto City Hall) and analysis provided by columnists. 

1. Toronto Star:  Obviously a Toronto based paper like the Toronto Star would have better coverage of the Toronto area than the other two national papers like the Post and the Globe.  The Star even has better local GTA coverage than it's main Toronto area coverage competitor, the Toronto Sun, as well.  The Star has the lead stories on the front page, letter to the editor on the comment page and a full "GTA" section everyday except on Sundays included in the paper.  The coverage is quite complete from Royson James and Christopher Hume providing their commentary of items both at City Hall and in the community to Jack Lakey taking on City Hall in one of my favourite columns "The Fixer" and of course the usual staff writers investigating the day to day goings on at Toronto City Hall.

2. National Post: On most days the Post has two pages and one or two letters to the editor on Toronto issues.  The Post really only ranks higher than the Globe & Mail as I've found a new columnist, Chris Selley, who I enjoy reading.  Otherwise, the coverage is focused on city hall and matches the same coverage provided by the Globe & Mail.

3. Globe & Mail: The Globe only provids two page on Toronto goings on and some letters as well like the National Post.  However, like the National Post, most readers want the national news instead of the local.  But for myself, Toronto and national coverage together better. 

Comics: The papers were ranked based on the number of comic strips in the paper (i.e. space taken up), are the comics humourous most days and were there comic strips that provided "reliable" (i.e. almost guaranteed to provide at least a smile on a daily basis).

1. Toronto Star:  The Star beats the others hands down.  The Star has really invested in being the number one spot for newspaper comics by having such reliables as "For Better or for Worse, " "Sherman's Lagoon" and others on a daily basis.  But the Star also expanded their Saturday paper's three pages of comics content by picking up  "Garfield" and "Baby Blues" from the Toronto Sun. Also, the newer strips like "Retail" have been a hit as well.

2. Globe & Mail: Beats the National Post because they have six strips and the Post has none. Although these strips are nothing to write home about.

3. National Post: Comics?  None.  Hence last place finish.

Overall: What do the papers bring to me overall that I appreciate.

1. Toronto Star: The Star has great local coverage of the Toronto area and compliments it's local sister paper, The Liberal, with local Toronto area coverage.  A full page of comics is a great asset to this paper that it probably doesn't get the recognition it deserves.  Specialty columnists like Jack "The Fixer" Lakey going after simple day to day problems around town and Consumer Columnist (and blogger!) Ellen Roseman provide good tips and provide an interesting read.

2. National Post: Reliable delivery!  I've never wondered where the paper was after the first phone call.  Every time the front door is opened int he morning there the National Post is guarenteed dry and ready to be opened and explored.  I've also enjoyed the City Hall Musings of Chris Selley as well and may look him up more often after our free trial subscription ends.

3. Globe & Mail: Poor delivery performance  and Customer Service issues seem to be major problems at this publication. After one hundred years in existance in the Toronto area, one would figure that delivering a paper to subscribers reliably wouldn't be an issue.   Otherwise the paper is a decent read for both it's National politicial coverage and business news.

Finally, the main question, will I subscribe to one of the above papers?  No it's not worth having a paper land on my doorstep every morning to read.  Not at a cost of over one hundred dollars a year for a subscription.  Besides for commuting the Richmond Hill area is well served by the freebies of Metro and 24 Hours that easily help to pass the time on the bus.  For news and information in the evenings and weekends I can usually turn to the newspaper and television websites for nothing more than the cost of an internet connection.

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