Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Belshaw's world - when the daily news counted

Straight after my Armidale Express column on economic forecasting came out (The economic version of the weather man, AE 11 January 12), the World Bank released new economic forecasts suggesting that the world faced a severe risk of global depression.

This is, if you like, the economists’ version of “We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,

"Before the year is out." Within days, positive economic data turned perceptions around!

I will write about this in my new national economics column in Australian Business Solutions Magazine. Here, for the moment, I want to return to the country press.

If the mark of a rising town in the nineteenth century was the establishment of a local newspaper, then the mark of ultimate arrival was the establishment of a daily newspaper.

The first daily newspaper in country NSW was the Daily News. This began publication, would you believe, in Braidwood in February 1859 and ceased daily publication some five months later.

The first daily newspaper established in the broader New England was the Singleton Times. This began publication in September 1863 and lasted barely three months.

The printing technology of the time made publication of a daily hard and expensive work. Despite this, between 1863 and 1895 eleven daily newspapers were established in New England. Of these, only two (the Newcastle Herald and the Maitland Mercury) survived.

Between 1895 and 1995, a further twelve daily newspapers were established. Five of these were still in existence at the end of the twentieth century.

Country newspapers were not as we know them today during this early period.

In small communities where everybody knew everyone else’s business, demand for local news was limited. Instead, all the papers provided news from elsewhere, often just scissors and paste of each other’s articles.

The spread of the telegraph made news transmission much easier. Most papers whether daily or not, carried main national and international stories. The cost of telegraph services became a major expense item.

With time, significant differences emerged between the coverage in New England’s dailies and those publishing less frequently such as the Express.

Country populations were now larger. There was increasing demand for local news. The country press in general began to drop its coverage of national and international news, focusing instead on local news.

The dailies were different, providing broadly the same type of coverage as the metropolitan newspapers.

As late as the early 1950s, the Sydney papers’ circulation within New England was limited, with the Northern Daily Leader outselling the Sydney Morning Herald in Armidale by a considerable margin.

There were practical reasons for this.

Transport times meant that the New England dailies were in people’s hands earlier and often had later news than the early edition Sydney papers. On the Tablelands and plains, people read the Northern Daily Leader for their international, national and regional news, the local paper for their local news.

The dailies were quite aggressive in commercial terms, seeking to expand their circulations.

Lismore’s Northern Star (daily from July 1907) sought to expand its readership on the far northern Tablelands. For twelve months, its Lismore based editor personally attended every meeting of the Tenterfield council.

In the south, the Tamworth Observer moved to daily publication at the end of 1910 and then, at the start of 1921, re-badged itself as the Northern Daily Leader.

Under editor Victor Thompson, the paper saw itself as the premier daily promoting northern causes and especially self-government for the North. Its circulation grew rapidly.

From the early 1950s, improvements first in road transport and then air brought the metropolitan newspapers into people’s homes much earlier.

In the south, the Newcastle Herald retained market dominance. Further north, the Sydney and, to a lesser degree, Brisbane papers increased their circulation at the expense of the New England dailies. By 2000, the dailies were a shadow of their former influence.

There is a sad postscript to all this.

In November last year, APN ceased publication of the Tweed Daily News and Coffs Harbour Advocate in the face of falling circulations. An era had ended.

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on 8 February 2012. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010, here for 2011, here for 2012.


Greg said...

Jim, Newcastle had two dailies. There was the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners Advocate. That paper is now known as just The Herald and is still published daily Monday to Saturday. The name change coincided with the switch from broadsheet to tabloid about 20 or so years ago.

There was also the Newcastle Sun which was a daily tabloid. The Sun even had early and late editions. The Sun is now long gone having met it's demise in the 1970's or early 1980's.

It was a sad day when the Sun closed - it was a part of the city's history and fabric. I think that it was a victim of the increasing reach of the Sydney dailies and also probably the cost of publication.

Also in the lower Hunter, The Maitland Mercury is still in publication.

Jim Belshaw said...

Thanks for the information, Greg. I will check and bring up a post with further details.

Greg said...

Jim, here is a link to a conversation a few years ago with Vic Levi on ABC radio Newcastle. He was a jouranlist with the now defunct Newcastle Sun. This might be of interest to you and your readers.