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When 'a flood of free newspapers' washed over Toronto

In 2000, Toronto had at least a half-dozen daily newspapers in business. That was before free dailies joined the game.

In 2000, Toronto saw three new papers join an already crowded newspaper market

The National investigates how the presence of free newspapers will affect Toronto's already competitive newspaper market. 2:14

Nineteen years ago, Toronto had four daily English-language newspapers, at least three other non-English daily newspapers and other biweekly and weekly papers being printed in the city.

So why not add more to the mix?

In June 2000, the Toronto Sun launched a free daily newspaper called FYI Toronto that was being handed out to people heading into the subway for their morning commute. 

'A quick read of top news'

The Sun was having copies of FYI Toronto handed out to commuters at city transit stations. (The National/CBC Archives)

"It's a quick read of top news you have to know on your way to work," said Lou Clancy of the Sun, when speaking to The National about FYI Toronto.

"It's information on what to do today and how to do it [and] where to go."

The Sun's free paper made it to market ahead of the Toronto Star's own GTA Today, which was also going to be a product aimed at commuters.

Star publisher John Honderich had a similar explanation of what his paper's forthcoming free daily would be.

"It's really meant to give people an opportunity to plan their day," he told The National.

'Going too far'?

The National's Ron Charles showed viewers stacks of the many newspapers that were printed into Toronto -- before any of the free papers hit the streets. (The National/CBC Archives)

Some observers questioned how additional papers could thrive in such an already crowded newspaper market.

"Are there enough people with enough time to read it all?" asked reporter Ron Charles, when reporting on the newest papers out there.

John Miller, a journalism professor at Ryerson University, saw the Star and Sun's respective investments in the free papers as wasteful.

"I think it's just going too far, that they're spending money foolishly," said Miller, a former newspaper editor.

'Stake their turf'

Once the free papers hit the streets, they started showing up in trash cans after people had read them. (CBC Evening News)

The report on The National also questioned how the impact of the Swedish-owned daily Metro could impact the market.

Charles suggested Metro's plans to enter the Toronto market may have motivated the Star and Sun "to stake their turf underground."

Metro was publishing in Toronto by July and with three free dailies publishing, the city was soon seeing a lot of newsprint being discarded in trash cans and on the streets.

Free papers meant more copies to be discarded after they were read. 1:22

"There's a flood of free newspapers being distributed in our [transit] system and they're all ending up on the floor," said TTC Chair and Coun. Howard Moscoe, when describing the resulting mess.

Eventually the TTC asked the papers to stop handing out copies outside subway entrances.

Eight months after the free papers arrived, the Star and Metro announced they would merge their products.

"The publishers say they merged to save money and create a better product," the CBC's Carole MacNeil told Canada Now viewers, when the merger was announced in March 2001. 

Two of Toronto's free commuter papers agree to merge in 2001. 0:22