Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
My name is John Honderich, I am chair of the board of Torstar Corporation, and I'm delighted to accept your invitation to speak today.
My message to you is a simple one. There is a crisis of declining good journalism across Canada. At this point, we only see the situation getting worse. What we see is far fewer municipal councils being covered. At Canada's second largest government at Queen's Park, there is now just one multi-reporter news bureau. Here in Ottawa, the parliamentary press gallery has shrunk, as Canada's large metropolitan newspapers, and that includes our own, have significantly cut back reporters. Across the land, I can say there is much less quality investigative reporting.
The implications of this trend for an informed citizenry and for local communities gaining access to the information they need are profound. If you believe, as we do, that the quality of a democracy is a direct function of the quality of information citizens have to make informed decisions, then this trend is indeed worrisome. I think it's something that should concern us all.
It is very important right at the outset for this committee to understand that newspapers are far from dead. From a readership point of view, we are still alive and kicking. Fifty per cent of Canadians still read a print newspaper. Close to 90%, in fact it was 88% last year, of Canadians read newspaper content on one of four digital platforms every week. In our bailiwick, the latest Vividata survey shows that the Toronto Star print newspaper, still the largest in the country, is read daily by more than one million people. This is twice the readership, I might add, of our nearest competitor. The latest figures show digital readership of the Toronto Star on one of the platforms is up 67%. Page views are up 39%. Unique visitors are up 30%. That, by the way, translates into 26 million visits a month.
Readership is not the issue. It is the business model. I would like to illustrate this paradigm shift through our own experience at Torstar.
We pride ourselves as a progressive media company, committed to quality journalism that publishes more than 110 newspapers and owns dozens of digital businesses. The company was founded on our flagship newspaper, the Toronto Star. The Star Media Group also operates thestar.com, which is one of the most visited websites in Canada; Star Touch, our daily tablet offering; the Metro chain of newspapers, with operations in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto, and Halifax; and Sing Tao, the Chinese language newspaper group, with papers in Toronto, Vancouver, and Calgary.
On the community side of our corporation, Metroland publishes more than 100 community newspapers spread across all of southern Ontario, plus the Hamilton Spectator and the Waterloo Region Record. Metroland is one of Canada's leading media companies, which, in addition to its newspapers, owns many digital properties, a vast flyer distribution network, printing facilities, shows, magazines, and directories. Finally, we are a one-third owner of Canada's national news service, the Canadian Press.
I think it's fair to say we know a little bit about newspapers. We have prided ourselves on the quality of our journalism across the entire group, and our connections to the communities we serve are profound. We have the awards to prove it. If you want to know what's happening in Toronto, you go to the Star. In Hamilton, it's the Spec. In New Hamburg, it's the Independent. In Parry Sound, it's the North Star, etc. I could do that for 110, and all of these are Torstar properties.
However, for the last decade, we have been buffeted by fundamental change in the newspaper industry. The digital revolution, plus the advent of the Internet, have fundamentally changed the business model under which we operate. The phenomenon is worldwide and has been well-documented.
But let me tell you the story from my perspective when I was publisher of the Star. I can remember that with our readership numbers I could boast, and I certainly did, that you had to advertise in the Star. Today there is an infinite number of digital places where advertisers can and do place their ads.
I can remember as business editor when we brought in $75 million in career advertising. It's completely gone. I can remember when our classified section ran up to 45 pages. Today's it's Kijiji and Craigslist. We now run two classified pages every day, and our largest category is births and deaths. I can remember when our travel section was huge. It no longer is. All those revenues paid for a lot of reporters.
Without that revenue, we simply cannot afford as many journalists. Indeed, the very business model is at risk. I don't want this committee, though, to think that we've sat idly by and not tried to do anything about it. Torstar, in my view, has been one of the most innovative in trying new digital ventures, everything from Workopolis to WagJag, to Toronto.com, to Star Touch, to Blue Ant Media, to Gottarent.com, to Goldbrook.ca.
There have been some successes, but the structural pressures have been relentless. Advertising revenues continue to decline and as a publicly traded company, it's there for all to see. What does this mean for our ability to report the news in all our communities? Again, let the figures tell the story.
Over the past decade the number of journalists at the Toronto Star has decreased from a high point when I was publisher of 475. When we're finished our latest buy-outs it will be 170. At the Spec and the Record, the number of journalists has been cut in half. In our community papers the number of reporters has been cut by one-third. You may well have read that earlier this year we were forced to shut down the Guelph Mercury, one of Canada's oldest newspapers, because it was no longer sustainable. You can imagine that was a very tough decision.
Put all these numbers together and it spells out an alarming tale. Why? Believe it or not, newspapers are still the only media institutions, with a few exceptions, with large newsrooms. You don't find any reporters at radio stations or in digital operations. Some argue that the democratization of the web that allows constant bloggers and citizens to write is the answer. I don't agree. They have neither the resources, the expertise, nor the time to get to the bottom of the story or to really get onto serious investigative journalism, which to me was key.
Sadly, we see no remedies on the horizon, which is why we feel it is essential—and this is why I'm here—that there be a national debate and which is why we appreciate that this committee is asking the necessary and appropriate questions. As members of Newspapers Canada we report the recommendations that were filed with this committee and we feel strongly that without some action, quality journalism and connection to our communities will get even worse. The stakes are that high.
Thank you very much.