Less than six months into the launch of a radically different approach to news, the Toronto Star’s Touch tablet application has more than 200,000 downloads and 50,000 daily user sessions, seven days a week.
Nothing is harder than creating new news habits. We think the early success of Toronto Star Touch owes much to the boldness and visual brilliance of our new storytelling styles and the full employment of all the new digital techniques that tablets allow.
Does the story need a video? Done.
A graph, a map, a soundtrack, a photo gallery? Done.
Does the story have layers of complexity that need to be laid upon each other to bring out deeper meanings? Done.
The layered story formats put readers in charge of how deeply they want to read into any topic.
We had a huge hand in mastering the new approach from our friends at La Presse in Montreal, who have been extraordinary pioneers in this initiative.
The biggest component of our success has been the deep transformation that went on in our newsroom during more than a year of preparation.
The Star newsroom has always been adventurous and progressive. Years of digital training and continuous restructuring of the newsroom and the news day made the staff digitally savvy and eager to push into new areas. But the news story was still thought of from the default perspective of print — text with a side of illustration.
What has been transformative is thinking about news from a screen-first vantage point. News is no longer the prose report of an event that will sometimes be illustrated. Now the news is a kernel of idea, emotion, and excitement that can be communicated powerfully and memorably combining the impact of multiple media — text, video, sound, graphic.
This was a big step for many journalists, and not everybody wanted to go for the ride. For those folks who found the changes too extreme, we offered thanks and a buyout in recognition for what they had contributed.
Then we hired 70 young people with the new storytelling skills we were short on to support Toronto Star Touch. And we undertook extensive research to help us shape a news, information, sports, and entertainment agenda for a younger demographic.
We also decided that the app would be free.
We knew it had to be free if we were to attract younger people to an immersive digital news environment. And we want the widest possible audience for the work of our superb newsroom.
The mission of this venerable news organisation is still the same. The Toronto Star will continue to crusade for social justice and a better, fairer Canada.
But with Toronto Star Touch, we are speaking to a new audience about that mission in new ways.