Blog by John Miller

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Back from the dead

With so many newspapers failing or in financial difficulty, it's a pleasure to welcome some back from the dead.

Next month, several downtown Toronto neighbourhoods will again receive their Town Crier, a monthly tabloid that ceased publication in May after the paper's parent company, Multimedia Nova, was placed in receivership.

Now it's being relaunched as an independent publication by a group of former employees who paid the receiver an undisclosed sum for the titles. Theirs is a smart move. A monthly newspaper delivered door to door with local news in some of Toronto's most prosperous neighbourhoods still makes good business sense, it seems to me. There are other news sources in some of those areas, but not many with a 35-year track record.

This statement by Eric McMillan, who will be editor-in-chief and head the transition to independence, explains the group's motivation. I wish them the best of luck.

The Town Crier was founded by my friend and former colleague Harry Goldhar in 1978 in his East York apartment and later, under corporate ownership, expanded to 10 editions serving neighbourhoods like Beach-South Riverdale, Bloor West and York Mills. At its peak, the various editions reached 330,000 readers.

The relaunch will include editions with 25,000 copies each for Forest Hill, Leaside-Rosedale and North Toronto. Later, 60,000 copies of a separate Midtown edition will be circulated. McMillan and the new company, Streeter Publications, eventually plan to bring back the other editions as well.

It's good to see something positive will emerge from the wreckage of Multimedia Nova, an innovative and courageous multicultural publisher that may have expanded beyond its means but in the end was done in through the unexpected actions of a foreign government.

The company's principal publication, the venerable Italian-language daily Corriere Canadese, was founded in 1954 by the legendary Dan Iannuzzi, whose inclusive vision of multiculturalism was decades ahead of its time. For years it received a subsidy from the Italian government, which had a policy of encouraging foreign publications to convey news of Italian politics to expatriate Italians who are eligible to vote in national elections.

Corriere received $2.8-million in annual funding from the Italian government since 1994. But the grant was cut in half in recent years and stopped altogether a year ago. Publisher Lori Abittan reluctantly stopped the presses on May 4.

The loss of its landmark publication brought down the whole Multimedia Nova empire, which included a division that published 15 other newspapers in four languages and a printing and distribution system that served more than 60 multicultural publications.

“We [the former staff] saw the end coming for the company and that it was falling apart,” McMillan told J-Source. “We considered the alternatives and we decided to continue the newspaper on our own.” It's not known how much the group paid for the Town Crier name, but it was probably a bargain.

I hope a buyer will also be found soon for Diversity Media Services, another Multimedia Nova creation that went down with the mother ship. It was an innovative and much-needed agency offering marketing and editorial services to hundreds of multicultural newspapers across Canada -- sort of one-stop shopping for advertisers eager to reach the far-flung and elusive ethnic diaspora.

(Disclosure: Up to last year, I served on the business advisory board for DMS. Here is its website, and here is an article in which I describe some of its successes.
Shortly after this blog was written, I learned that DMS has in fact been acquired by Ethos Communications of Mississauga. More good news.)

One of Multimedia Nova's most innovative projects -- the brainchild of the remarkable Lori Abittan -- was The Canadian Experience, a 52-week series of articles by Canada's foremost historians that tell the story of why our country is the way it is, and how it works. Edited by historian Jack Granatstein, it was translated into 22 languages and ran in 50 multicultural newspapers from coast to coast.

Despite its sad end, Multimedia Nova was, in my mind, a Canadian success story. Let's hope more parts of it get to live again too.