TVO Original Viral News reveals the daunting challenge of saving The Toronto Star during a worldwide pandemic

Premiering November 20 on TVO, this new documentary will also be screened at a TVO Today Live event in Toronto with special guests

Toronto, ON, Nov. 10, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- After two conservative-minded businessmen bought The Toronto Star, critics predicted the end of the long-struggling liberal newspaper. And then came a worldwide pandemic. Premiering Sunday, November 20, 2022, on TVO—with streaming available via TVO Today, YouTube, the TVO Today mobile app and smart TV services from November 18—TVO Original Viral News is the story of how the efforts of Star journalists shaped our understanding of COVID and immersed the new owners in the gravity of their task. 

Viral News focuses on the Star as a major metropolitan newspaper struggling to survive in the digital age while trying to cover the biggest story in decades,” says John Ferri, VP of Programming and Content at TVO. “But it addresses a much larger question: What would be lost if news organizations like this one were to be diminished or disappear entirely? The Star repeatedly broke important stories during the pandemic. Who would replace that essential work?”

“I was a print reporter before becoming a filmmaker and I've always loved newspapers,” says Viral News director Kevin McMahon, Primitive Entertainment. “When 'fake news' became a common trope, my producing partner (and brother) Michael McMahon and I decided to make a documentary about the reality of news gathering. The late publisher John Honderich agreed to let us film in the Star's newsroom and we were ready to start in March of 2020 when, suddenly, the paper was sold and COVID hit. We ended up filming through the Omicron lockdown in the nearly empty Star building and in the family kitchens that became the Star's virtual newsroom. As usual in documentary, the twist in events was a blessing in disguise. Our job became tougher, but I think the resulting film reveals more about journalism today than it would have under more normal conditions.”

When Jordan Bitove, the scion of a wealthy family, and Paul Rivett, a value investor, purchased the Star in March 2020, Toronto’s media critics painted them as pillagers who would destroy a century-old institution. The Toronto Star continues to struggle against the advances of social media, particularly its ability to eat away at advertising revenue. But the COVID-19 pandemic underscored the dire public need for fact-based reporting that could combat misinformation coming from those very same platforms.

TVO Original Viral News examines the long winter of the Omicron lockdown and the crucial support Star journalists brought to readers in a time of uncertainty. Witness journalists rising to the challenge of the biggest health crisis in human history, all while Bitove and Rivett learn how to run a newspaper from the empty rooms of Star headquarters.

Join Steve Paikin from The Agenda on Thursday, November 17, 2022, as he hosts TVO Today Live. After an in-person screening of Viral News, Paikin will moderate a discussion with a panel of featured guests: Paul Rivett, Torstar co-owner and CEO; Jay Rosen of New York University and the blog PressThink; and the Honourable Pamela Wallin, senator, former broadcast journalist and diplomat. Registration is free through Eventbrite.

Watch the broadcast premiere of TVO Original Viral News on Sunday, November 20, 2022 at 9 pm ET on TVO, and stream it starting Friday, November 18 on TVO Today, YouTube, the TVO Today mobile app and smart TV services. Subscribe to the weekly TVO Docs Newsletter for the latest on programming updates and features, or follow @TVODocs on Twitter and Facebook.

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Primitive Entertainment is an Emmy nominated, Webby award-winning producer of documentary feature films, television series and digital media. With 30 years of experience producing premium nonfiction content, Primitive Entertainment’s work has earned more than 40 awards worldwide. Our mission is to engage, enlighten and entertain audiences through compelling and daring stories that can change the way we see the world around us.

TVO inspires learning that changes lives and enriches communities. Founded in 1970, we are a globally recognized digital learning organization that engages Ontarians of all ages with inclusive experiences and diverse perspectives. Through video, audio, games, courses, newsletters and articles, we’re investing in the transformative potential of education for everyone. Funded primarily by the Province of Ontario, TVO is a registered charity supported by thousands of sponsors and donors. For more information, visit, and

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Sean Minogue, TVO


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