Is it Torontoist, or Toppingist?
Surprising even its own contributors, the city's most popular blog, Torontoist, this week announced its imminent closure.
In a goodbye note posted last Friday, editor David Topping wrote that he chose to resign "at the right time for the right reasons," without fully explaining those reasons. Faced with his resignation, lagging ad sales and a recession, he said, the site's publisher, New York City's Gothamist, had responded by discontinuing the blog.
If only that were the full story. There's more that needs to be said before the site's stated closing date of January 1.
For the past four years, Torontoist has been one of the most consistently interesting, up-to-date blogs in the city. It's part of a network of blogs - the most successful on the Internet - operating under the Gothamist LLC umbrella.
It was founded in 2004 by the author of this column and a talented friend. We ran the site for about two years before turning it over to other qualified candidates.
A few transient editors later, Topping took the helm.
Almost immediately, he modernized the design of the site, making it more attractive than it had ever been before. Traffic skyrocketed.
The outlandishly young man (18 at the time!) had his share of misfires, too. I was most uncomfortable with allowing public space zealots and political partisans to hijack the editorial direction. But ultimately, the site blossomed into a solid source of Toronto-centric information and media. In fact, it was solid enough to be named the city's best website by this very newspaper recently, and then again by our readers.
That's why the end of the site is such a head-spinning surprise and disappointment.
For his part, Topping isn't being completely forthright. Yes, there's a worldwide recession, and Torontoist, the lone Canadian outpost of a for-profit American company, without the advertising interconnectedness of the U.S. sites, would be first to go.
But online is indisputably the place to be for ad sales. The Interactive Advertising Bureau of Canada, for one, quotes predictions of double-digit growth in online advertising spending in 2009. With low overhead and only four years in the game, blaming the recession just doesn't hold.
It comes down to a classic labour-management divide. Topping says he needed more resources to grow the Torontoist. Gothamist disagreed.
In a dispute with his publisher over the direction of the site, Topping refused to follow the template of fewer bloggers writing more. Over what he considered moves that jeopardized the site's quality, he seems to have protested by quitting without naming a successor. Gothamist, losing money on Torontoist, took the easy way out by shutting it down.
If Topping believes he resigned on the grounds of integrity and is justified in not handing the reins to one of his more-than-willing staff, he is absolutely wrong. There are passionate and able writers in this city (and on the site masthead) who would gladly step in, regardless of what resources were available. I should know; I never received a cent running Torontoist.
Besides, Topping owes it to his readers and staff to ensure the site's continuation, no matter what direction it takes. There is no alternative, especially considering that Toronto's other group blog, BlogTO, is so bland it's offensive.
Topping tells me he's encouraged by the outpouring of support he's received and will look for a way to continue a group blog in Toronto. He also left the door open for Torontoist to re-emerge at a later date - both positive moves.
But, a final message to Topping and whoever might next edit the city's only worthwhile group blog: Torontoist is well written, and well read, and thus does not deserve this fate. The site must go on.