Toronto Star newspaper afternoon edition in PDF format. What are they thinking?

Toronto StarIn September, the Toronto Star, Canada’s largest circulation daily newspaper, began publishing an afternoon edition in PDF form. CJR Daily has an interesting interview with two editors from the Toronto Star, who explain the thinking behind this initiative.

The Star is a great newspaper. And I think that the people at the Star are working overtime to explore the potential for their content of the new delivery channels and socila media. However, when I first heard of this initiative, I couldn’t quite understand what they were up to. And this interview only makes me think that this concept is fatally flawed.

First, in reading the interview, it seems that this initiative is rooted primarily is a demand on the part of Star employees to bring back an afternoon edition. There’s no sense in the interview that the paper’s readers were looking for something like this.

To the extent that the readers’ needs and wants figure into the Star’s thinking, it seems to relate to a belief that there are people who don’t have time to look at the online edition during the day, but who will have the time to download and print an eight to twelve page mini-edition of the newspaper.

Columbia Journalism ReviewEBC: Still, at first glance the idea of a new afternoon newspaper does seem counterintuitive. Why create an entirely separate edition of the paper when you can already post breaking news articles on the Web site during the course of the day?
Michael Babad: Yeah, you ask a really good question there, and it’s one that obviously we kicked around. The idea is the Star‘s Web site gets heavy traffic, so we know in fact (as you suggest) that people are looking at it throughout the day, but a couple of things. Not everybody can look throughout the day because of whatever their work environment is, and there are some [features] you can’t necessarily find — so I guess the key thing here is that editors, who have for eons put together newspapers by picking the stories, editing the stories, and presenting the stories, are giving you something that is pre-packaged, where you can at a glance get the top stories of the day, what we feel you might be interested in, plus some special things that go beyond just breaking news, like lifestyle stories, entertainment stories, puzzles. …

Huh? And people who don’t have time to read through the easily navigable home page of the star online will have time to download and print a PDF? And they’ll also want to take it with them to read during their commute after such a busy day? This sure seems counterintuitive to me.
And why did afternoon newspapers dies out in the first place? Wasn’t it because of competition from up to date, evening radio and television news broadcasts? Add to the current mix downloadable podcast content, the ability to take emails and web content out of the office on BlackBerries and even to use these devices to surf the web for up to the minute content – and it seems to me that the Star is chasing a miniscule set of readers.

There are many innovate people at the Star and in the newspaper industry. And they will evolve the medium to compete with the new media. But this initiative by the Star isn’t really a step forward. It smacks too much of simply trying to apply the old model to a new medium. And I can’t believe that will work.

Hey guys, don’t put flanged train wheels on a truck!