There is no more striking example of the rise and fall of the afternoon daily newspaper in Australia than the Melbourne Herald.
It was founded as a semi-weekly in 1840, but for most of its life the paper was an afternoon broadsheet. By the early 1970s, its audited daily circulation had passed 500,000, after which it began a steady decline. In October 1990, the Herald ceased publication but its name (and some of its character) were merged with its sister newspaper, a morning tabloid, the Sun News-Pictorial. That paper is now called the Herald Sun. It appears six mornings a week and also has a Sunday edition. The Herald, noted for its foreign news and commentary, reporting of federal politics, and comprehensive local and sporting coverage, was a major loss to the Australian newspaper scene, and particularly to Melbourne readers.
From 1988 until 1992, what is often referred to as ‘death in the afternoon’ resulted in the closure or merger of newspapers in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. The Adelaide News was the last stand-alone, paid afternoon newspaper in Australia when it was closed in March 1992.
The main factors behind this trend were the growth of evening television news and current affairs programs, and changing transport trends. Changes in newspaper reading habits also meant that morning newspapers were being read much later in the day. The trend was the same around the English-speaking world, with sharp declines in the United States and the United Kingdom. Oddly, several afternoon provincial daily newspapers in New Zealand survived well into the 21st century.
Although morning publications have dominated the newspaper industry in Australia, afternoon dailies have made a significant contribution dating back to the mid-19th century. Sydney’s first afternoon paper, the Daily News and Evening Chronicle, appeared in 1848 but lasted only a short time. The Evening News (1867–1931) was more enduring. The Sydney Morning Herald briefly published the Afternoon Telegram in 1870. In Melbourne, 1867 saw the launch of the Evening Star (1867–69), the first Australian newspaper printed on Australian-made paper with Australian-made ink. In 1869, the Herald moved to afternoon publication in Melbourne; it was the oldest surviving afternoon newspaper in Australia when it merged with the Sun News-Pictorial in 1990.
The Herald saw off what turned out to be a brief challenge in 1969 when David Syme & Co. Ltd, publisher of the Age, launched the tabloid Newsday. Not only was Newsday up against a fierce and respected competitor, it appeared at a time when afternoon daily circulations were peaking and about to begin their rapid decline. That same year, John Fairfax & Sons launched an evening daily, the Canberra News, which closed in 1974.
The fiercest newspaper contest came in Sydney in the closing decades of the afternoon daily in Australia. The participants were the Daily Mirror, established by the legendary Ezra Norton in 1941 and subsequently sold to Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited, and the Sun, founded in 1910 and owned by the John Fairfax Group when it closed in 1988 after a disastrous privatisation of the company the previous year. In a sign of what was to come, both papers had killed off their Saturday editions in 1974. The last Saturday evening issue in Australia was the Herald in Melbourne on 20 December 1986, and Sydney ceased to have afternoon dailies after News Limited amalgamated its two Melbourne papers as the Herald-Sun and its Sydney papers as the Daily Telegraph Mirror from 8 October 1990. They were relaunched as 24-hour newspapers, but before long reverted to morning publication only, as well as a return, in the case of the Sydney publication, to the Daily Telegraph masthead.
In Brisbane, the Telegraph was an afternoon newspaper first published in 1872. It began as a broadsheet, switching to tabloid in 1948 and ceasing publication in 1988. The Brisbane Sun stepped into the vacant spot, moving from morning to afternoon publication to do so, but it too had folded by the end of 1991. In Perth, the Daily News was published as an afternoon paper from 1882 to 1990, and traced its origins back to the 1840s. In a sense, the most historic of Australia’s afternoon newspapers was the News in Adelaide. It was launched in 1923 and was the last of the metropolitan afternoon dailies to close, in March 1992. A young Rupert Murdoch inherited control of the paper when his father died in 1952. From these frail roots, he built News Corp, one of the largest media and entertainment conglomerates in the world.
Afternoon dailies in Australia were not confined to the major cities. They were scattered throughout provincial centres as well. In Victoria, the gold mining cities of Bendigo and Ballarat got their first afternoon papers in the early 1860s: the Evening News (Bendigo, 1862–93) and the Evening Post (Ballarat, 1863–94), followed by the Evening Echo (1895–1929). Between 1888 and 1897, there was an afternoon paper in the port city of Geelong. At the other end of the country, in Charters Towers, North Queensland, the Evening News appeared briefly in the early 1890s and the Evening Telegraph from 1901–21. Afternoon dailies were published in centres such as Rockhampton (until 1941), Griffith (1971) and Innisfail (1973). In Toowoomba, the Darling Downs Star was launched as an afternoon paper in 1955, against the morning Toowoomba Chronicle (1858– ), but it ceased daily publication in 1959. The Newcastle Sun (est. 1918), an afternoon daily, closed in 1980.
Some provincial afternoon papers switched from afternoon to morning publication—for example, in Dubbo (1984), Goulburn (1987) and Maitland (1989). In 1972, the Shepparton News switched from tri-weekly to daily (afternoon) publication and then, as the last afternoon provincial daily in Australia, moved to morning publication in 1990.
Historian Rod Kirkpatrick notes that while the Northern Territory News is one of the handful of Australian dailies that have changed from afternoon to morning publication, it is probably the only one that has done this twice. The NTNews started life as a weekly in 1952 and became an afternoon daily in 1964. Between 1968 and 1974 it was a morning daily, but in February 1975, in a move to overcome distribution and other problems following Cyclone Tracy, it reverted to afternoon publication. From 1991, the NT News was once again a morning paper.
At the end of 2013, Australia had 10 metropolitan and 36 provincial dailies, all of them morning publications. Free commuter dailies, aimed at 18–24-year-old readers, are the last link with the once vigorous afternoon daily newspaper scene. They are published in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne on weekdays.
REFs: H. Mayer, The Press in Australia (1968); R. Kirkpatrick, ‘Afternoon Newspapers’, PANPA Bulletin (June 2006); R. Kirkpatrick, ‘Press Timeline, 1951–2008’, compiled for Australian Newspaper History Group (2008).