TORONTO — John Cruickshank says the time is right for him to step down as publisher of the Toronto Star and president of Star Media and, no, he’s not interested in taking on that type of job at another media organization.
“I’m really not interested in the day-to-day work of reinventing business cases for news groups right now,” Cruickshank said Wednesday in an interview after Torstar announced he will step away from his management roles in May, when Torstar has its annual meeting.
“I’m really more interested right now in public policy issues. I’ve been really inspired over the years working with United Way and on the board of St. Michael’s Hospital. I hope there’ll be more of that in my future.”
His responsibilities within Torstar will be assumed on an interim basis by David Holland, who is president and CEO of Torstar (TSX:TS.B). Cruickshank will also remain co-chairman of the board of Canadian Press Enterprises as a Torstar director.
Torstar holds an investment in The Canadian Press as part of a joint agreement with a subsidiary of the Globe and Mail and the parent company of Montreal’s La Presse.
Cruickshank, who turns 63 in April, says he initially made a five-year commitment to Torstar more than seven years ago and has talked from time to time with Holland and Torstar chairman John Honderich about the need to continually renew the management.
With the launch of the Star Touch tablet-only daily news app last fall and a redesign of the Star’s website in its final stages, he says, “It just felt like the end of a chapter and the right time to pass it on.”
Cruickshank said in a memo to Torstar staff that “I’m ready to leave scaling new journalistic heights to someone with less arthritic limbs and more recently acquired tools and skills.”
The one-time reporter has held a variety of senior management positions at various media groups, including the CBC, the Globe and Mail and the Chicago Sun-Times while it was part of Conrad Black’s Hollinger group. He left the public broadcaster to become Toronto Star publisher in January 2009.
In the interview, Cruickshank said his successor needs to be a “digital native, not just a digital visitor like me.”
“I think it’s important that we have leadership that really truly understands younger Canadians and I think it gets harder and harder as you get older and, frankly, more affluent,” he said. “You can get detached from the great majority of the people you’re writing for. So I think renewal is a really important piece.”
Torstar announced two weeks ago that it had written down the value of its continuing operations by $213.3 million in the fourth quarter, including $70.5 million at the Star Media group that includes the Star and $130.6 million at the Metroland Media group that includes smaller dailies and community newspapers.
Chief financial officer Lorenzo DeMarchi said at the time that 2016 would continue to be challenging due to a shift in spending by advertisers.
Cruickshank told the same conference call with investors that advertisers had responded positively to Star Touch. But Holland said growth in the app’s audience was slower than originally anticipated, however the company expects it to break even by 2017.
“Oh, it’s very far from perfection and I never imagined we were going to hit that (level) in the first go,” Cruickshank said Wednesday. “I think that it’s still finding its feet. I think there’s going to be a lot of change yet, and I think all of that’s good.”