Vancouver has long been the least competitive major newspaper market in North America, but that will change in the next few weeks. CanWest Global, which owns the Vancouver Sun, the Province, the National Post and about half of the lower mainland’s major community newspapers, is about to get a real taste of competition in the form of two rival dailies — Metro and 24 Hours — aimed at the under-34 readers who ignore traditional newspapers. CanWest is responding with a free daily of its own, the youth-oriented Dose, which will be published in five cities. But while many observers believe the new arrivals will be good for advertisers, by creating more competitive rates, the effect they will have in the information marketplace is far less clear. Metro, which launches March 14 with 160,000 copies, already has 700 news boxes with its distinctive green logo on City of Vancouver streets, with many more fanning out across the suburbs. This paper is the product of Metro International SA, the Luxembourg-based company that originated the trend to commuter dailies when it began giving away the first tabloid in the Stockholm transit system in 1995. In Toronto, Metro is a joint-venture with the Toronto Star’s parent company Torstar. In Montreal it is partnered with Transcontinental Media. In Vancouver the paper is a partnership with Torstar and has a deal with B.C.-based publisher Black Press, which is partly owned by Torstar, to run local copy from the province-wide chain of community newspapers City gets skeleton staffs Local editorial staff includes a managing editor and two all-purpose staffers who will do everything from reporting to photography and layout. They will be supervised by a Toronto-based “Vancouver” editor. Company insiders said Metro planned to hire young journalists with minimal experience. The company is unfamiliar with the Vancouver market, however, and as late as last month Metro was still doing focus groups to determine what local readers want. Meanwhile, Quebecor Inc., the Montreal-based media giant that owns the Sun chain of tabloid newspapers, is about to launch a Vancouver version of 24 Hours, the daily giveaway that already circulates in Montreal and Toronto. Although the company has been headhunting local journalists, 24 Hours publisher Steve Angelevski would neither confirm nor deny they are coming into the market later this month. “It is Quebecor policy never to comment in the media,” Angelevski said. But Jennifer Bill, senior editor at Toronto’s 24 Hours, said the glossy, full-colour tab should be in Vancouver by the end of the month. Bill wasn’t sure of the Vancouver details but said the 16- to 32-page Toronto paper, which launched in November 2003, is more of a magazine in appearance and has been particularly successful with women readers. “The ink doesn’t come off on your fingers. People really like that,” Bill said. “It is a fresh face in the Toronto newspaper scene. It is sort of — hmmm. I am trying to explain what I mean. Reading it is just a nice experience.” However, critics of the publication deride a look they argue is reminiscent of the National Enquirer and those supermarket tabloids that offer glimpses of celebrity cellulite. Public wanted news When 24 Hours was launched, it took direct aim at women readers with a relationships column and lots of food and lifestyle coverage Bill said market research found that readers wanted more news. “Now it’s more of a balance, so we compete more with Metro. We don’t have as much celebrity and lifestyle stories.” With only two staff reporters, and seven local columnists, the Toronto version of the publication relies on wire copy from Reuters and Canadian Press and stories from Sun Media. Bill added that there is some concern about Dose entering the Toronto market, but she believes the CanWest product is hoping to attract a slightly different audience. “You always worry about the new kid on the block, but my understanding is that they are aiming at teenagers. Our audience is a little older: mid-20s to mid-30s.” Dose, which launches April 4, is the CanWest Global entry in the daily giveaway sweepstakes and will circulate 80,000 copies in Vancouver, 120,000 copies in Toronto, and 40,000 copies each in Ottawa, Edmonton, and Calgary. The tabloid magazine is aimed at the under-34 set and will try and set itself apart with a web site and a wireless portal that will allow the audience to access entertainment listings, restaurant guides, and other consumer information. Jaye Kornblum-Rea, Dose’s public relations consultant, said Dose is aimed at the “elusive” 18- to 34-year-old market that is techno-savvy and used to pulling information from a variety of sources, including the internet. “The mobile portal will have a search engine that is as competitive as anything out there. Say you want to find a restaurant to eat at before you go to a concert, you program in the information and you will get a list of restaurants in the area,” Kornblum-Rea said. The idea is to provide service to busy young adults who have embraced portable tech-toys and offer advertisers more ways of reaching them across three “platforms”: newspaper, web site, and internet portal. Paper aims to look good Kornblum-Rea said the new paper is stylishly designed with a lot of attention paid to graphics because the demographic it hopes to appeal to is known to be interested in “visuals.” And what would would-be readers have to read? “We haven’t discussed a lot about the content, it’s a little bit wait-and-see” she said. “But I know it will be relevant and really fresh and honest — they’re not afraid of controversy.” That less emphasis is placed on written content may have something to do with the fact that the paper’s management team comes mainly from fields other than journalism — mostly advertising and marketing. “I have heard this paper will break ground for young writers and young journalists who won’t have to work in a hard-core newsroom to get a byline,” Kornblum-Rea said. “It won’t be the typical newsroom crew where you have to do four years somewhere else to be hired. They’re not looking for traditional journalists. For example, they might hire someone who comes from video games to write about them.” Chicago’s seen it all The content Kornblum-Rea suggests — entertainment, celebrity, and sports —sounds much the same as content being offered by other commuter papers. It certainly sounds familiar to Mike Miner, who writes Hot Type, the media column at the Chicago Reader. He saw the Chicago Tribune try much the same thing with RedEye in October 2002, which was launched to defend Tribune territory against Metro. But RedEye was soon challenged by the Chicago Sun-Times quicky knock-off Red Streak. RedEye ran copy that was “repurposed from the Mother Ship” as Mark Fitzgerald of Editor & Publisher magazine described it, but it tried to sell itself has hip and edgy. “I think one of the mistakes they made was presenting it as the voice of youth instead of as a mass transit paper,” Miner said in a phone interview with The Tyee. “It put on airs and that repelled people. It was easy to make fun of.” But the Sun-Times’ Red Streak also ran into problems with the paper’s union when it hired a non-union staff for the freebie, and now it also recycles copy from the paid-circulation daily. Miner said the giveaways, with their recycled copy, are able to charge less for advertising than their rivals, and that had an impact on the Chicago Reader, which produces award-winning local journalism and is one of North America’s most successful alternative weeklies. “I think these papers might be bad for journalism overall,” Miner said. “It’s a case of bad currency driving out good.” Tomorrow The Tyee will look at the international trend toward tabloids, its roots in Europe and its results in Canada. Shannon Rupp is a Vancouver freelance writer who has worked for the Georgia Straight, the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, the Ottawa Citizen, Saturday Night and The Tyee.