The Toronto Star is Canada's highest-circulation newspaper, though its print edition is distributed almost entirely within the province of Ontario. It is owned by Toronto Star Newspapers Ltd., a division of Star Media Group, a subsidiary of Torstar Corporation.
Atkinson had a strong social conscience. He championed many causes that would come to be associated with the modern welfare state: old age pensions, unemployment insurance and health care. The Government of Canada Digital Collections website describes Atkinson as "a ‘radical’ in the best sense of that term...The Star was unique among North American newspapers in its consistent, ongoing advocacy of the interests of ordinary people. The friendship of Atkinson, the publisher, with Mackenzie King, the prime minister, was a major influence on the development of Canadian social policy."
But Atkinson was also a shrewd businessman who became the controlling shareholder of The Star and amassed a considerable personal fortune. The Toronto Daily Star was frequently criticized for practising the yellow journalism of its era. For decades, the paper included heavy doses of crime and sensationalism, along with crusading zeal for social change.
Its early opposition and criticism of the Nazi regime saw the paper become the first North American paper to be banned in Germany by its government.
Beginning in the mid-1950s, the Star sought increased respectability by elevating professional standards and avoiding the sensational excesses of the past. It hired some of the country's most respected journalists and advocated expansion of the welfare state.
In 1971, the Toronto Daily Star was re-named the Toronto Star and moved to a modern office tower at One Yonge Street and Queens Quay. The original Star Building at 80 King Street West was demolished. The new building originally housed the paper's presses. The printing plant was moved outside the city to Vaughan in 1992. During the 2003 blackout, the Star printed the paper at a press in Welland, Ontario.
On May 28, 2007, The Star unveiled a redesigned paper that features larger type, narrower pages, fewer and shorter articles, renamed sections, more prominence to local news, and less prominence to international news, columnists, and opinion pieces. Star P.M., a free newspaper in PDF format that could be downloaded from the newspaper's website each weekday afternoon, was discontinued in October 2007, 13 months after its launch.
Shortly before his death in 1948, Atkinson transferred ownership of the paper to a charitable organization given the mandate of continuing the paper's liberal tradition. Ontario's Conservative government passed a law barring charitable organizations from owning large parts of profit-making businesses. The law required the Star to be sold. The five trustees of the charitable organization circumvented the law by buying the paper themselves and swearing before The Ontario Supreme Court to continue the Atkinson Principles:
Descendants of the original owners, known as "the five families", still control the voting shares of Torstar, and The Atkinson Principles continue to guide the paper to this day. Recent editorials have been headlined "Fairness for the deaf" and "Public policy fuelling poverty." In February, 2006, Star media columnist Antonia Zerbisias wrote on her blog: "we all have the Atkinson Principles—and its multi-culti values—tattooed on our butts. Fine with me. At least we are upfront about our values, and they almost always work in favour of building a better Canada."
Editorial positions sometimes surprise readers. The Star was an early opponent of the Iraq War and sharply criticizes most policies of George W. Bush, but supported Canadian participation in U.S. continental missile defense. Recent editorials have denounced political correctness at Canadian universities, opposed proportional representation, and called for more restrictive copyright laws.
The paper has almost always endorsed the Liberal Party federally. The Star was the only major daily to do so in the 2006 federal election while many of the other major papers endorsed the Conservatives. The Star has never endorsed the social-democratic New Democratic Party, though it came close to doing so provincially in 1990. The paper endorsed the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario in many of the provincial elections from the 1940s to the 1980s. (Star journalist Claire Hoy coined the nickname "Big Blue Machine" in 1971 to describe the PC political organization which frequently ran on a moderate agenda.)
That said, today few major North American dailies are further to the left than the Star. But the paper's editorialists and columnists usually avoid strident advocacy of radical social change. They prefer incremental reform, fueled by earnest exhortation and appeals to compassion. Recent series on news pages have focused on poverty and multiculturalism. Supporters praise the Star 's continuing commitment to its founding principles, applauding its ability to attract a large readership for many stories unlikely to be printed elsewhere.
Detractors call the newspaper "the only paper in the world edited by a dead man" (a derisive reference to The Atkinson Principles), or target formulaic "sob sister" stories that focus on the plight of the poor and downtrodden. Some accuse the paper of being a mouthpiece of the Liberal Party of Canada. In recent years, a few critics have even revived a previous put-down, "The Red Star".
The Star says it favours an inclusive, "big tent" approach, not wishing to attract one group of readers at the expense of others. It publishes special sections for Chinese New Year and Gay Pride Week, along with regular features on condominiums and shopping. In recent years, the newspaper has promoted "a new deal for cities."
Unlike some of its competitors, The Toronto Star has been profitable in most recent years. The residual strength of the Star is its commanding circulation lead in Ontario. The paper remains a "must buy" for most advertisers. Some competing papers consistently lose money, are only marginally profitable, or do not break out earnings in a way that makes comparison possible. However, the Star has long been criticized for inflating circulation through bulk sales at discount rates.
But margins have declined and some losses have been recorded. In 2006, several financial analysts expressed dissatisfaction with The Star 's performance and downgraded their recommendations on the stock of its parent company, Torstar. In October 2006, the publisher and editor-in-chief of The Star were replaced amid reports of boardroom battles about the direction of the company. A redesigned paper launched in May, 2007. It features 17% less space for editorial content and a greater emphasis on local coverage.
Notable former columnists