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Thursday, April 07, 2005

Reviewing Vancouver's Free Dailies 

All three new free daily papers are out now. It's time to give a rough overview of each, and we'll do it in order of appearance:

The oldest, and the most straightforward. It's a short daily paper, running 16 pages in a slightly oversized tabloid format. The articles are pretty brief, but the worst excesses of contentlessness have been excised. The crossword is small, but not awful. I can give metro my highest praise: you would probably be better informed after reading it.

24 hours
When good paper happens to bad news, it looks like this. 24 hours features a nice semi-gloss newsprint, whiter and with far better colour and photo reproduction than the other two papers. It's the same grade as used by colour tabloid magazines like the National Enquirer. Its letter-sized 16-page format even has a glued binding, making it more of a daily magazine than a daily paper. No surprise that the parent company is a paper-maker.

I'm not sure what the causal relationship is, but the smallest and prettiest of the dailies is also the emptiest: a full-colour photo is most of the front page most days, movie starlet photos and articles take up page two, and then the news starts on page 3. To their credit, the cover story is a reasonable local one: wildlife officials have a suspect in the slaughter of 50 eagles, and the two other hot local stories (local MP in trouble over asking people for conduct bonds for visitor visas; baby shot in Maple Ridge) get their space too, though the stories are very brief.

And that's it. 24 hours contains heavy dollops of entertainment news, which seems to have driven most of the other potential content out. If you're looking for a cheaper, more timely substitute for In Touch Weekly, you're sorted. Also, good crossword. Otherwise, this paper makes you stupider for the reading of it.

I see potential in Dose, but only that. It's the newest and most confused so far. It's the most direct about its marketing aims, which are to make late teens and early twentysomethings read a paper, preferably theirs.

I couldn't actually find any local hard news in today's issue. That's weird. What is left is some breezy but reasonably sensible treatment of more national and international stories (the front-page splash is a comic-book graphic of Paul Martin sweating, with text referencing the Gomery inquiry), and its entertainment pages include an interesting page of tidbits about the film Sin City.

Graphically, the paper is a bit of a wreck. Reasonable design is let down by bad paper and overambitious uses of colour. This is the only paper with any non-colour pages. I would be interested in seeing this paper's design merged with the technical advantages of 24 hours.

I'm not impressed with Dose so far, but I give them a chance. This is the paper most like reading the National Post's better weekend sections. That's not awful. But what is awful is the crossword. It's tiny and clumsily clued, yet too filled with cryptic pop-culture references (which, for me, means indie music) for me to even finish it. Let's give this paper an "N" for "Needs Improvement." In my grade-school days, that was the worst possible grade on the cryptic VG/I/N scale. Maybe I'm just not in the demographic.

A note on the capitalisation conventions above: the papers hardly know themselves. I have picked the capitalisation chosen for each paper's masthead for this posting, even though metro seems to regularly refer to the brand as "Metro" on the website and in bylines. 24 hours seems more consistent about these things, wandering into "24 Hours" only on a few parts of the web page. Dose is the least confused, except for its mildly ambiguous masthead typestyling, which could be pedantically read as "DOSe."

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