Torstar and Metro combine forces in Toronto newspaper war

Torstar said Tuesday it is combining forces with Metro International S.A. to publish Metro Today, a free daily newspaper, beginning May 1. The new edition will replace Torstar's Today and Metro's own paper, which the companies have been giving away to Toronto commuters since last summer.

Both companies will have a 50 per cent interest in the new operations, with Torstar having a 75 per cent interest in the new publishing company.

Metro Today will draw its staff of approximately 40 people from the operations of both Today and Metro. Roughly 180,000 copies of the new paper will hit the streets beginning May 1.

Torstar's B class shares were unchanged at $18.30 on the TSE on Tuesday morning.

Andrew Go, the president of business ventures for Torstar Media Group and publisher of Today will become chairman of Metro Today. Greg Lutes, publisher of Metro, will handle that same job at Metro Today.

"Our mutual experience in the past year confirms that there is a market for one strong commuter newspaper in the Greater Toronto Area," Go said in a release. "By joining forces, we combine the strengths of both organizations - Torstar's knowledge of the local market with Metro's proven track record internationally to publish one stronger, more successful newspaper."

The merger of Today and Metro will leave Sun Media's FYI as the only other free commuter paper in the city.

The free papers are aimed at young commuters, people who are traditionally not heavy readers of newspapers.

Metro publishes 19 editions in 14 cities, including Stockholm, Helsinki, Prague, Budapest, the Netherlands, Zurich and Rome. The company's only American paper is in Philadelphia.

Torstar owns the Toronto Star, along with the Hamilton Spectator, the Kitchener-Waterloo Record and Metroland, the publisher of approximately 70 community newspapers.

Toronto has been the scene of an old-fashioned newspaper war, with four paid dailies, the Star, the Globe and Mail, the National Post and the Toronto Sun, all competing for readers and advertisers. That's in addition to the three free commuter tabloids. The newspaper war is also moving to Montreal.

On March 1, Metro unveiled a Montreal edition in partnership with G.T.C. Groupe Transcontinental. That move was challenged by Quebecor Inc., which countered with its own free paper. Quebecor went to court to overturn Transcontinental's exclusive deal with Montreal's transit commission to hand out its paper on commission property.

On Wednesday, a court set a May 7 hearing date for the case. Until then, Quebecor will have to continue handing out its free paper outside Montreal subway stations.