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Thursday, March 31, 2011

On the buses

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

London Transit riders will soon be able to enjoy the news in hard copy on their ride to work or school.

Starting next week, free copies of Metro News, will be handed out on LTC buses to riders.

According to the staff report to the LTC board, the Metro daily newspaper was originally developed in 1995 in Europe as a quick news magazine. It has been extremely successful in attracting advertising that allows for continued free distribution. The concept has since spread to North America; in Canada, it is distributed in Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver and, beginning April 4, in London and Winnipeg.  

At the LTC Board meeting on Wednesday, staff recommended that LTC enter an agreement with Metro News to allow distribution of the broadsheet on the buses. There will be a trial period of five months to see if the project will fly. During this time, Metro News will pay the LTC $3000 per month. Part-time employees will distribute the papers in person during this time. If the pilot is successful, the contract will continue at $5000 per month for five years with the papers being carried on board in a soft satchel dispenser. 

Additionally, LTC will receive advertising space in the newspaper.

The money will certainly come in handy for LTC which is attempting to improve its service and increase its ridership while keeping down its costs. During the recent budget deliberations, the mayor complained bitterly about LTC’s lack of a smart card or debit option to facilitate ticket purchases.  LTC General Manager Larry Ducharme pointed out the cost of providing a debit option would cost LTC $124,000 per year which would have to be taken out of the service it provides since the city refuses to increase its support. Currently, London provides the lowest subsidy for public transit of any Ontario city of comparable size. The only alternative would be to increase fares, which has a negative effect on ridership.

So not surprisingly, the LTC is looking for other sources of revenue. The $5000 per month could go some distance to covering such additional costs.

The introduction of another source of news into the city will be attractive those who are looking for alternatives to existing newspapers or just something to look at during their commute. Don’t expect in depth analysis; this is designed for a quick read. Its major appeal will be that it’s free and available.

According to the representative who spoke at the public meeting, the paper will offer local content as well as regional, national and international news and will be “balanced”.

The prospect of a newcomer in the news business is likely to be less appealing to existing newspapers. The London Free Press was present at the meeting having just submitted its own last minute proposal. A motion to delay approval of the contract until it could be considered was not seconded.

Will the addition of Metro News be good for London?

On the plus side, with its offices on Talbot Street, Metro News London will bring 12 full-time jobs to the downtown and taxes to the city. And the 50 or so students who are hired to distribute the papers on the buses during the first few months will probably appreciate the opportunity to earn a little extra spending money.

But businesses have only so many advertising dollars to spend. Print news is already struggling, with many layoffs having occurred over the last decade or so. We have seen The London Free Press, in particular, reduce its editorial staff to skeletal proportions. There is little time or space for investigative journalism, critical analysis, or reflective commentary.

A quick glance at a broadsheet of headlines and summaries may be fine for whiling away a half hour on the bus.

Still, some of us mourn the days when we could spend a full Saturday morning over coffee and the paper.


Anonymous said...

Why does't the LFP make a similar offer to keep out this competition?
Why is the LFP not more supportive of the issues that matter to the people of London?


Cynic said...

The LFP is not more supportive as it is owned by Sun Media which has no interest in London other than being a cash cow. It is also biased to the right of the political spectrum.