The Toronto Sun’s Pitch For Reader Input

“We’re listening”, it says in bold white lettering.  Then, directly underneath that welcoming phrase, in a smaller font:  “Join our Your News Views online advisory committee today!”
Two years ago, on a tip from a fellow blogger, this website wrote about The Star Advisers.  TorStar, the parent company of The Toronto Star, put the word out both online and in print that they were looking for reader input in order to better improve their business.  Nothing wrong with that.  But as I concluded at the time, “TorStar doesn’t need to pay a company to survey readers who sign up for their advisory groups.  They’re unnecessary since those same readers already offer their opinions freely through phone calls, emails, letters and faxes.  When the people speak, shouldn’t newspapers listen?”
Now it’s The Toronto Sun’s turn.  If you go to their official website, you’ll sometimes see a banner ad right beside the tabloid’s logo urging readers to join something called Your News Views.  (Other times, a square version appears to the left of the Top 10 stories near the middle of the screen.)  Hoping to “strengthen the connection to our readers and community”, clicking the ad takes you here where you’re urged to sign up, “participate in interactive online surveys and give us your opinion on Content, Writers, Paper Design, Advertising, Satisfaction and many other issues that are important to you.”
The lure of a whopping $250 prize (one of ten available to win through ten random draws) is supposed to seal the deal.  (The contest ends on June 30, according to the rules.)  Clicking another link near the bottom of the page takes you to your first survey.  Right in the bottom right hand corner is a familiar name:  VisionCritical.  Yep, the same company that TorStar pays to organize its Star Advisers committee is now running The Toronto Sun’s Your News Views.  How wonderful.
As this website noted in 2007, VisionCritical “is associated with organizations like The National Retail Federation and The American Marketing Association”, non-journalistic entities.  It’s all about increasing the bottom line, not improving the quality of a newspaper.
The very idea of this coming from a still profitable company that has nonetheless been continually rocked by layoffs, perk removals, increased workloads for fewer employees and reduced credibility is extremely laughable.  All one has to do is read through numerous entries on The Toronto Sun Family Blog to immerse oneself in all the gory details.  There are a lot of angry Sun workers continually longing for the days when the late, lamented Doug Creighton ran things.  The fact that so many of them refuse to attach their names to their bitter comments and emails to the site is very troubling.  The fear of unwanted dismissal remains very high.  It’s quite understandable considering the overall state of North American media and the global economy today but it’s still disappointing.  Aren’t journalists supposed to be the bravest people on the planet willing to place themselves in great danger for the sake of an important story?  Is Quebecor chief Pierre Karl Peladeau really as scary as guerilla groups in war zones?  Do his employees fear his wrath more than death in combat?
Since December 2006, this website has pointed out repeatedly the problems with The Toronto Sun.  (Check out the Sun Media/Sun TV section for those past pieces.)  Discarding respected columnists without explanation, continuing to publish long discredited neoconservative bullshit in the opinion section, dropping the complimentary TV Times pullout from the Sunday Sun for readers outside the GTA, refusing to routinely and promptly correct all significant errors when pointed out by readers, and producing thinner editions that cost more to read are just a handful of complaints I’ve had over the years.  If it weren’t for Jim Slotek and Eric Margolis, I’d abandon their website altogether.  (I’ve long given up on reading the print version.)  There have even been times where I don’t peruse at all.  What’s the point when people like my friend Bill Brioux can be read elsewhere?  The whole thing is just plain sad.
But sadder still is how The Sun, and The Star, too, throw their money away for these pointless focus groups when all that’s wrong with their newspapers is staring them straight in the face.  The people who take the time to write a letter to the editor, leave a voicemail, send a fax or an email are the ones whose input should be most desired.  Unfortunately, judging from what I’ve seen, it rarely is anymore.
Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, April 11, 2009
5:04 p.m.
Published in: on April 11, 2009 at 5:05 pm  Leave a Comment  

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