The Grid gets freshened up, goes smaller

The Grid is getting freshened up this week. Most noticeably, the Toronto Star Newspapers free weekly publication is switching to a smaller format. Originally 11 inches by 14-and-a-half inches, it’s shrinking down to nine-and-a-half by 12-and-a-half inches. Also, the right-hand side of the paper (which will be printed on the same stock as before) will […]

The Grid is getting freshened up this week.

Most noticeably, the Toronto Star Newspapers free weekly publication is switching to a smaller format. Originally 11 inches by 14-and-a-half inches, it’s shrinking down to nine-and-a-half by 12-and-a-half inches. Also, the right-hand side of the paper (which will be printed on the same stock as before) will be trimmed. “It feels very much like an oversized magazine,” publisher and editor-in-chief Laas Turnbull told Marketing.

He hopes the change will help squash the label sometimes used to describe The Grid. “We couldn’t be any further from being an alternative newsweekly,” said Turnbull. “We’re a weekly city magazine.”

He believes it’ll be easier for readers to think about it that way when they see the more compact dimensions and other changes to The Grid when comes out on Thursday.

Rather than a complete redesign or relaunch, Turnbull said the changes are more of a freshening up. “It’ll still be unmistakably The Grid, but it definitely has a different kind of energy,” he said.

Part of its new energy comes from combining two sections into a new offering called “Grid picks.” This numbered list is meant to be a resource for readers that points out the most interesting things happening in the city each week using a mixture of short narrative pieces, longer reviews, infographics, annotations and charts.

The back section of other publications is typically pages of listings without any editorial voice or input. Turnbull said a senior editor at The Grid will now comb through the listings to make a qualitative judgment on what’s worth attending. The “City,” “Life,” or “Culture” sections have also been eliminated with content organized based on timeliness; the most time-sensitive stories will appear at the start of the book, with less urgent stories further in.

Many of the tweaks to The Grid are more subtle, said Turnbull. For instance, creative director Vanessa Wyse has introduced several hand-drawn elements into the pages. “You really have to study the pages to identify some of the hand-drawn bits,” said Turnbull. They give the pages a bit more nuance and loosen them up, he said.

Why make these tweaks now? Turnbull thinks the way readers consume content online has raised their expectations of how often websites substantially change themselves. With The Grid coming up to its third year, he thinks it—along with print media in general—needs to fit more into that paradigm to stay fresh and relevant.

He added that Toronto has changed also a lot since The Grid launched. “There are a lot of pressures on the city now and decisions that need to be made about the kind of city that we want to be,” he said. With the municipal and federal elections and the Pan Am games coming in 2015, 100,000 people moving into Toronto each year, and problems with traffic and a certain, umm, media-worthy mayor, Turnbull wants The Grid’s approach “to be a little more news magazine-y.” The goal, he added, is “to become a hyper-local news magazine so we’re slightly more topical.”

To coincide with the refresh, The Grid has also rethought its distribution strategy. To make sure it’s reaching its sweet spot of readers 18-34, Turnbull said The Grid is building its reach and penetration by getting more copies into apartment and condo towers in Toronto’s core, including areas such as Liberty Village, as well as into and around university campuses. (Roughly 11,000 additional copies are now being distributed in such areas.) The Grid distributes a total of 70,000 copies weekly.

“The temptation is to get lazy about distribution because, frankly, it’s boring and really hard work,” said Turnbull. “But it’s the kind of thing you constantly need to be looking at and making sure that as the city changes, particularly as a free publication, you’re moving into the areas that people in your core demo are moving into as well.”

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