It was old-school journalism tactics with a 21st Century twist when the Toronto Sun published a rare 28-page “bulldog” edition Thursday following the stunning revelation that Toronto police had Mayor Rob Ford’s now-infamous “crack video” in their possession.
Sun publisher Mike Power said Sun staffers couldn’t even remember the last time the Toronto daily produced a late afternoon edition. “It’s been many, many years,” he said. “We were debating and trying to remember, and it was tough to recall the last time it was done.”
The special “Ford free-for-all” edition featured hallmarks of the Sun at its best: a punny headline on the front page (“Nightmayor on Ford Street”), captivating headlines (“Things get freaky at Ford’s house”) and in-depth reporting. In not-so-true Sun fashion, which typically leans right-of-centre, it also featured an editorial calling for Ford to resign.
The edition carried 14 pages of advertising from national brands including Fabricland, Goodyear and HMV, as well as local advertisers including Chrysler dealer Roadsport Chrysler, Furniture Club and the law firm Diamond & Diamond. Power wouldn’t say if the edition was profitable.
“We’re really happy with the way it worked,” he said. “In order to do this it has to be a significant story and everything has to align – you have to get the material at the right time, the story has to break at the right time.”
But with the ability to break stories and provide updates via the web, why print? “This was more of a statement piece,” said Power. “We sent out all sorts of virtual editions and pointed people to our online coverage, but this was an opportunity for us to get some exposure on this particular issue – which editorially we felt very strongly about.”
The video, which was reported to have been seen by staff at the Toronto Star and Gawker Media, allegedly shows Toronto’s mayor smoking from a crack pipe.
The decision to produce a special edition was made around 12:30 p.m., shortly after Toronto police chief Bill Blair confirmed in a press conference that mayor Ford had been identified in a video that has dominated City Hall proceedings since it was first made public in May.
“We looked at it and said ‘This is an opportunity to make a statement,’” said Power. “We felt the story was hugely significant for Toronto.”
Sun staffers had an approximately two-and-a-half-hour window between 12:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. to create the editorial, run it through the legal department, and sell the advertising.
The Sun printed 20,000 copies of the special edition and used an old old-school journalism tactic – news “hawkers” – to distribute the free edition around TTC stations in the downtown core.
The modern-day twist was provided by, what else, social media, which the Sun used to publicize the special edition and inform followers where it was being distributed.