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By John Intini
The Toronto Star's latest distribution strategy has raised some serious concerns in the newsrooms of a number of university student newspapers.
This summer, The Toronto Star signed a three-year deal with York University to distribute 5,000 free copies to the campus each day.
The Star is distributed via 26 newspaper boxes designed for this project, said Loreen Lalonde, a consultant hired by The Toronto Star to head up the program.
The initiative is an attempt to increase readership among university students. According to Lalonde, surveys conducted at Pennsylvania State University showed only 17 per cent of students read newspapers upon entering university. However, after implementing a similar program, the survey showed newspaper readership jumped up to 73 per cent.
Both The Star and Ryerson Polytechnic University are currently in negotiations to establish a similar deal, Lalonde added.
Angela Pacienza, the editor-in-chief of York's weekly student newspaper, the Excalibur, said she is not happy with the new deal because The Star boxes have monopolized many of the high traffic areas on campus. Pacienza said this threatens Excalibur's readership.
Lalonde explained although the Excalibur is allowed to use compartments in The Star's newspaper box, the agreement prohibits the Excalibur from placing distribution boxes within five metres of any Star box.
Pacienza said allowing The Star access to campus silences the students' voice. She added the move will have serious effects on the Excalibur's circulation and advertising.
Sine MacKinnon, York University spokesperson, said the deal is not something for Excalibur staff to worry about. "The Star is not going to take away readers from the Excalibur," she said. "Student's grab the Excalibur for campus issues which The Star can't offer them."
According to Nigel Pleasents, executive director of Campus Plus, a national advertising agency that works with 80 student newspapers across the country, the real concern centres around national advertising.
Pleasents said if deals are struck with the other Toronto-area schools, The Star will have a potential market of 50,000 students. "If The Star decides to offer a special edition to its on-campus audience [to attract national advertisers] the effects could be devastating to student papers," he said.
Tariq Hassan-Gordon, President of Canadian University Press, agreed with Pleasents concern. "Student papers only have a handful of cornerstone national advertisers and if The Star goes after them there could be some serious problems," he said.
Liane McLarty, general manager of the Eyeopener at Ryerson, was also vehemently opposed to the current proposal being considered by administration, which would include Ryerson in The Star's program.
"I consider the Eyeopener an extension of the classroom," McLarty said. "We're a student run paper and we make mistakes. When you have competition from professional papers like The Star the policy of the paper has to change.
"It's like dumping a beluga whale in a goldfish bowl. We just can't compete," she said.