Metro goes coast to coast

HALIFAX — Canada’s latest free newspaper hit the streets of Halifax this week, two days after Transcontinental Media shut down the Halifax Daily News.
The debut 24-page issue of Metro Halifax mirrored the format already familiar to readers in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal: short local stories on the front and first few news pages, followed by national and international wire copy, with a mix of local and syndicated entertainment and sports coverage.
But the business model appeared to differ significantly from Canada’s bigger-city editions of the international chain of free dailies.
In most cities, Metro targets public transportation commuters, and often relies on a local media partner for content.
In Toronto, for instance, Metro has exclusive rights to distribute in the subway system and it uses stories and photos from the Toronto Star, which is owned by partner Torstar.
Halifax has a weak public transit system that will not give Metro a strong distribution base. Metro will also operate here without a media partner to provide cheap editorial content.
Some speculated this week that the Halifax edition of Metro was created to give the chain a coast-to-coast option for national advertisers.
The Metro chain is now the largest newspaper chain in Canada, printing 850,000 copies per day in seven cities.
The Valentine’s Day launch of Metro Halifax started out with a print run 50 per cent higher than the 30-year-old daily that it replaced. The Halifax Daily News had roughly 16,000 subscribers when it folded. Metro printed 25,000 copies Thursday and hired vendors wearing bright green aprons to give the paper away.
Metro may have printed more papers, but it used far less staff to create them. The Metro newsroom has just six reporters; most editing and production functions are done outside Halifax.
The paper is a partnership between Transcontinental, Torstar and Metro International S.A., the Swedish company that began the chain that now churns out 100 newspapers in 21 countries around the world.
Metro is designed to be read in 20 minutes and is targeted at younger readers from ages 18 to 49. The chain has sparked a fierce newspaper war in several cities, where competing companies have launched their own free newspapers.
Canwest Global Communications Corporation, which owns traditional broadsheets in Montreal, Ottawa, Windsor and seven Western cities, launched the free daily Rush in Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa to compete with Metro.
Sun Media Corporation launched its own free daily in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.
The explosion of daily newspapers across Canada has also created an explosion of litter. Calgary, for example, now has five daily newspapers, three of them free. Calgary city officials recently discussed restricting the number of newspaper boxes in the city, partly because the boxes have become a hazard near bus stops, where the free papers compete most vigorously for commuters.