Metro Morning

John Cruickshank, outgoing Star publisher, optimistic about the future of news

There are some big changes coming to the country's biggest newspaper.

'The next renewal should be someone else'

John Cruickshank is still optimistic about editorial after his 40 years of news. (CBC)

There are some big changes coming to the country's biggest newspaper.

The daily print edition appears to be giving way to other ways of distributing news, mainly through the paper's tablet app, Star Touch, and in a new beta site for thestar.com.

The Star's publisher, John Cruickshank, announced he's stepping down from his post as of May 4, but said leaving behind a paper that is facing a sea change. But he is not stepping away because of the paper's struggles. In fact, he calls the death of newspapers premature.

"[The newspaper] is certainly not dead," he said. "Life support is a little extreme yet. We have time."

Despite the decline of media, both in readership and revenue, Cruickshank remains upbeat about the future of print.

When he entered the industry almost 40 years ago, Cruickshank estimated 75 per cent of newspaper revenue came from advertising. But now, advertising is shifting — to the internet and, he claims, to television — and more revenue has to be raised from readers, mostly in terms of subscriptions.

'Older readership'

Will readers be willing and able to pay for subscriptions?

"That's a big question," said Cruickshank, who is also president of the Star Media Group.

"Most them don't prefer to get their news online. It's an older readership in newspapers now. For a lot of them, it's going to be difficult. Many of them are on fixed incomes and they may not have the capacity to pay the amount that's required. And that's where I think the real rub of the business case will be."

But Cruickshank said the way to keep readers and lower subscription prices is to leverage the cost over several platforms, like the tablet version of the Star. He wants to engage the people who never read the newspaper.

The challenges, however, remain great. David Holland, who is president and chief executive of Torstar Corp., said Wednesday that growth in the Star Touch app's audience was slower than originally anticipated. Holland also said that the company expects Star Touch to break even by 2017 and that it's part of Torstar's push towards a more digital future.

The paper reported losses of $213.3-million in the last quarter.

But Cruickshank said that's just the paper, and the fuller picture of the Torstar company is healthier. He cites investments in other companies, like book publisher Harlequin Enterprises Limited and the commuter newspaper chain MetroLand Media.

It was partly the shift to technology that hastened Cruickshank's departure.

"I felt that we made generational shifts on all of the platforms," he told Metro Morning. "It really felt like this great stream of work had come over the dam, and the next renewal should be someone else."

'My heart's in editorial'

Cruickshank spent his career as a news executive at the Globe and Mail, Chicago Sun-Times and the CBC, running CBC News until he left for the Star. He was appointed publisher of the Star in 2008, returning to his roots in newspapers — he was also a reporter, writing for the Kingston Whig-Standard, Montreal Gazette and the Globe and Mail.

The majority of his career, he pointed out, was always focused on print.

"It's a hard business these days," the 62-year-old said.

When he began his post as publisher, most of his time was devoted to the newsroom. But lately Cruickshank said the job had been about the business of news rather than the news itself.

"My heart's in editorial. My heart's in the news," he said.

It's difficult to leave the role behind, Cruickshank admitted, but he promised to stay on five years and it's been more than seven.

Cruickshank is the paper's ninth publisher in its 116-year history.

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