A commuter newspaper is a class of newspapers that are often free daily newspapers and "part of a lifestyle of commuting into work.. They represent a 'fast read' for those with busy lifestyles, and tend to be rack-selected take-ones." The first commuter newspapers included Vancouver's Georgia Strait, the Montreal Mirror, and New York City's The Village Voice.
In keeping with the newspaper's intention to provide brief and direct accounts of the day's news, the paper's writing is more simplistic, intended to give readers the facts and news they desire succinctly. Accordingly, there are fewer sections in Metro than a traditional paper, and each section is much thinner. Instead of relying on subscriptions these papers are usually supported by advertising revenue.
Metro International was founded in Sweden in 1995. The idea behind the commuter paper was "news for free, at the right place and the right time. A free daily newspaper distributed in high-traffic commuter zones and public transport networks." In 1997 Metro introduced a Prague edition of the paper two years later, and by 2008 published 58 editions in 19 countries and 15 languages, and was based in Stockholm. Ottawa's RushHour, for instance, was introduced in 2006 and is available at 120 distribution points throughout the Canadian city, at points where commuters board public transit vehicles for the daily trip home. Metro is likewise available within subways stations and bus terminals as well as at secondary distribution points such as grocery stores, coffee shops and business towers, as well as in boxes on the street.
Though seemingly fresh, the idea of free distribution has been used for decades (often to culturally-oriented weeklies such as Vancouver's Georgia Strait, Montreal's Mirror and New York City's The Village Voice) this thinking actually harkens back to the news hawkers of the nineteenth century. Metro and its cohorts continue to have promoters situated outside subway stations and bus terminals worldwide handing out copies of the paper, and/or its off-shoot Metro Play, just as was common centuries ago. Commuter papers are what paperback novels were to the railway era - to be read and left for the next person. These papers are not artifacts that one wants to hold on to, or cut articles out of. Young readers do not interact with newspapers in the same way that previous generations did, and continue to do. “Metro is the new face of old media”, the paper's site accordingly claims a reader to have tweeted. Though apt, this statement is also largely ironic. While the commuter paper clearly does revert to some old-fashioned practices, as listed above, it also incorporates the very modern devices of cell phones and iPads with apps tailored to each medium. The take-one is further described in the 'media-kit' section of its website as “a newspaper/magazine hybrid. Metro is the voice of media-savvy urban readers who have little interest in classic newspaper content and delivery. What's important to them: snappy, to-the-point news and information delivered with wit and style. And that's the foundation on which we have built our success. Short stories. Unique content. Often-edgy editorial concepts. Sophisticated design.”
Metro's first Canadian offshoot was launched in Toronto, Canada in 2000 and since the brand has opened branches in Montreal, Ottawa, Calgary, Vancouver, Halifax, London and Winnipeg, Canada.
Commuter Newspapers and “Take-Ones” appeal to a more youthful population than mainstream newspapers. They are intended to be skimmed, not to be thoroughly absorbed and appreciated as a work of journalism. These papers are arguably less about the artistic or journalistic quality of the paper and rely on facts. They have fewer frills and fewer opinions than the traditional newspaper.
39% of Metro's print audience is between the ages of 18 and 34, 80% of its readers are either employed or students and 76% live in the city. Metro is, as most newspaper and magazine publications now are, available interactively, online and through wireless devices. Of Metro's interactive users, 49% are between the ages of 18 and 34, 79% are employed or students and 59% live in and around the city of Toronto. In keeping with this audience, presumably to appeal to youthful readers, Metro had pop mega-star Lady Gaga as guest editor on May 17, 2011, the week Gaga's album Born This Way was released. This special edition of the paper seemed to function as a way for Metro to increase its readership among its young, pop-culture-conscious readers while simultaneously providing a fruitful promotion opportunity for Lady Gaga.
In Canada alone, Metro reaches approximately 1.4 million readers through its print editions on a daily basis. and claims to have 741, 365 unique visitors to its website monthly, as well as upwards of 2.3 million page views.
For some theorists, the rise of the commuter paper was a democratizing force, bringing news to a larger, and more broad audience. Michael Stoll of media watchdog site Grade the News claimed that "young people would enjoy the brevity of the free papers, then "graduate" to more substantive broadsheets. People who won't pay to read would still be informed." For Goll it is as though commuter newspapers are a compromise, as though the commuter newspaper is doing society a favour by informing the young generation who Stoll suggests would not be informed on current events, would have no interest in seeking further information without it. Metro and its cohorts become a modern substitute for the traditional form that no longer seems to be of interest. Why then, would young readers seek out these other “more substantive” papers? If today's generation of consumers, the high-speed generation can get all of the information they need, and get it quickly, to be taken in and then discarded, what reason do they have to go elsewhere? For young readers, whom Metro boasts to be the majority of its readership, the newspaper does not seem to have the same importance it had to earlier generations. These young people seem satisfied to take whatever current events they can get. It is commonly believed that “younger people have shorter attention spans and narrower spheres of interest, and therefore must be catered to with short, telegraphic reporting”. Since Metro is short, brief and free, young readers are having their needs satisfied, and they no longer have any reason to seek out news from another source, especially news they would have to pay for.
Metro is the leading free national daily newspaper brand in Canada, and the first national daily to be published in both official languages. In Canada, Metro publishes editions are in Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, London, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver. Metro's target audience is what it calls YAMs (youthful, active, metropolitans). To reach this audience the paper employs traditional newsprint, as well as online and mobile formats and finally through apps for BlackBerry, iPhone, and Android phones, and most recently the tablet. Metro brings relevant daily updates and unique global inspiration at the right time and in the right format to enhance the YAMs' quality of life. Metro has a unique global reach - attracting a young, active, well-educated, metropolitan audience of over 24.8 million daily readers and more than 37 million weekly readers.
Through its print editions alone, Metro reaches more than 1.4 million readers daily and 3 million readers over the course of a week through our print editions. Guinness of Records has named Metro the world's largest global newspaper and it is also the fastest-growing one, Metro is published in over 55 editions in 24 countries and over 200 major cities worldwide including Prague, Florence, Paris and Amsterdam. Metro claims to have 50/50 male to female readership, something a paper such as The Globe and Mail has struggled with for years, eventually introducing a "Lifestyle" section to address this very problem. This seems surprising in light of the fact that successful business people- which Metro cites as the majority of its readership- are still more often men than women, like it or not, and this happens to be the type of readership The Globe and Mail has a reputation for having- albeit their readers are likely older and perhaps wealthier than those who read Metro and other free dailies. Coincidentally, The Globe and Mail now claims to be close to 50/50 male/female readership
What was new about Metro's method of distribution was not the fact that it is distributed for free, but rather that it was published daily rather than weekly, and claimed to publish both international and local news- this placing it in direct competition with traditional daily papers. It was also a competitor for the Internet argues Will Straw in his article Hawkers and Public Space. In Germany in the year 2005, more papers were launched than in any comparable period in the previous 60 years. According to Straw “virtually all of these newspapers are new, free commuter dailies” which according to one analyst “'completely restructured' the low middle ranges of the European newspaper industry”.
Like other traditional papers that have struggled, The Halifax Daily News- known for tackling issues such as racism, patronage and city planning, shut down on February 11, 2008 by owning Transcontinental Media who launched a branch of Metro to replace it.
Commuter newspaper versus the traditional newspaper
Unlike more traditional papers, which rely on subscriptions to make a profit, these papers are usually supported by advertising revenue. Since its launch, Metro has provided a unique opportunity for advertisers “to influence a very hard-to-reach audience – young, active, well-educated, urban, professionals”. Metro offers advertisers numerous innovative creative formats and solutions, sampling and alternative distribution opportunities.
"The free commuter newspaper participates in another contemporary trend as well: the move on the part of almost all newspapers to become smaller, more portable, and with reduced content." Some of Canada's largest and most successful newspapers, The Globe and Mail and The Toronto Star have also recently made their papers smaller, if only centimeters shorter when unfolded and held open. (reference needed). For the commuter paper, its size is reduced more so in terms of the thickness of the paper itself, due to its thinner sections. This is another element of the paper that makes it easy to travel with on the daily commute. A copy of Metro can be folded up and slid into one's briefcase, or left sitting on the seat in the subway car.
Presumably, an increased amount of revenue coming from advertising means increased control by advertisers over the content of the paper itself. Indeed, often the cover of the Metro is not a story but rather an advertisement. In fact, even the brand's webpage is littered with advertisements for companies who presumably also advertise in their papers. H&M recently had its Versace for H&M collection lining the recto and verso of both the front and back cover. In regards to this type of advertising leaking into the newspaper's editorial content Metro is not the only paper, commuter or otherwise, susceptible to the problem. However, the paper must have found some way to negotiate this problem, and seems to have found a balance- for it continues to be successful and readers are not turning away from it in disgust at the sheer volume of advertising. For in today's society too, advertising bombards us everywhere, notably in subway stations and subway cars, even streetcars, so a large proportion of ads in a commuter newspaper, which is flipped through quickly is really nothing out of the norm.
There is an implied bias based on this advertising money. Companies and/or individuals can come to have great influence over a publication due to the money they contribute to getting the paper printed. The interest of take-ones, if they wish to keep running, can easily become about their advertisers' interests rather than their own journalistic ones. Since commuter newspapers are ad- revenue-based, it is possible that it would be susceptible to corporate bias or bias from advertisers trying to slip their products into the paper's stories. This in theory could lead to a less consistent, and ultimately a less trustworthy paper, however this concern is not unique to the take-one format. Though other Canadian newspapers such as the National Post or the Toronto Star often do include many advertisements, the line between the commuter newspapers that are supported chiefly by advertising revenue, and regular newspapers which are not, becomes more and more blurred as newspaper readership and subscription continues to decline and even traditional newspapers need to rely more and more heavily on advertisers. It is also important to remember that these standard-format newspapers are part of large media conglomerates which may also be serving their own interests, for instance advertising for other companies or products associated with the brand.
One benefit of the commuter paper is that, in an age increasingly concerned with environmentalism, the commuter newspaper theoretically cuts back on the amount of paper printed. Presumably fewer papers can be produced, since one paper will reach the hands of more than one reader. The newspaper itself also requires less paper due to its condensed size. Of course much of the content of commuter newspapers is now available online and through smart-phone apps, as is that of traditional papers, again adapting to the cultural environment they exist within. However, not everyone sees the news environment of today as ecological. The U.K.'s “Project Free Sheet” is an activist group opposing the waste created by the relentless distribution of free papers by newshawkers. The group wants “to see all free newspapers distributed via 'dumb' vendors, or bins, so that the free papers are taken only by people who actually want them. This will limit circulation numbers to more realistic levels, so that our recycling infrastructure is able to divert as many papers from landfill as possible.”
- "Commuter/Take-Ones Newspapers". Echo Media.
- Straw, Will (2010). "Hawkers and Public Space". In Beaty, Bart; Briton, Derek; Filax, Gloria. How Canadians Communicate 3. Athabasca University Press. ISBN 9781897425596.
- John Crawley
- “Newspaper Design: Small is Beautiful.” Design Week, London, 10 November 2005, 18
- http://www.projectfreesheet.org/mis- sion.php