This daily newspaper was established in Melbourne when the broadsheet afternoon Herald merged with the morning tabloid Sun News-Pictorial on 8 October 1990. The Herald was the flagship of the Herald and Weekly Times (HWT) organisation, of which the Herald Sun is still part.
Former Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser editor George Cavanagh started the Port Phillip Herald on 3 January 1840, and by 1848 was producing an eight-page newspaper with Australia’s first steam-driven printing press. It became a daily, and was renamed the Melbourne Morning Herald in 1849. Cavanagh sold it in 1853, and it became Herald two years’ later. It struggled under different owners in the 1850s and afterwards, but under part-owner and lawyer (Sir) Archibald Michie was a lively liberal critic of the administration of Governor Sir Charles Hotham. In 1855 it was sold to the London printing firm of Robson, Levey and Franklyn. The Herald’s three-way contest with the Argus and the Age was brought to an end when, in 1868, the Age’s David Syme purchased it, turned it into an afternoon newspaper and, in 1870, sold it. The new owners were journalist Samuel Winter and investor John Halfey. Winter had founded the Catholic weekly the Advocate (1868–90).
The Herald secured a corner of the Melbourne market and was even-handed in news presentation. Same-day sporting results helped to establish the afternoon newspaper habit among suburban commuters. Circulation doubled in the 1880s boom. News replaced front-page advertisements from 1889, and the paper survived the economic collapse of the 1890s thanks to reorganisation, mergers and expansion, and popular football columns by Tom Kelynack (‘Kickeroo’). Linotype machines introduced in 1895 brought further economies.
Lawyer and businessman Theodore Fink was instrumental in forming the HWT in 1902, when Herald circulation was 50,000 daily and business was profitable again. James Edward Davidson, trained in Detroit and a former Argus journalist, became editor in 1906. Three Goss printing machines were installed from June 1913. Davidson and Fink disagreed over conscription, and Davidson resigned in 1918. Meanwhile, the HWT had purchased the London Daily Mail’s cable service, special articles and photographs. (Sir) Keith Murdoch was appointed editor-in-chief in January 1921. The 1921 Gun Alley murder and the 1923 Melbourne police strike helped him build circulation to 137,000 daily. Sporting events—especially during the VFL season— made Saturday the Herald’s biggest day. Name writers now included Henry Gullett (politics), C.J. Dennis (humour), Dale Collins (features), Will Dyson (cartoons), May Maxwell (daily social page), Douglas Copland (economics), Sir Daryl Lindsay (art) and Sir Archibald Strong (literature). By 1925, a challenge from Sydney magnate Sir Hugh Denison had failed. Another contender, the Star (1933–36), was beaten off.
The Herald’s stance was conservative politically, but the paper was alert to new trends and home to talented journalist writers like Alan Moorehead, Clive Turnbull, John Hetherington and Noel Monks. Murdoch cultivated staff personally, along with initiatives like the 1939 exhibition of French and British contemporary art organised by its art critic, Basil Burdett. Its circulation was second only to that of its morning tabloid stablemate, the Sun News-Pictorial, but wartime newsprint shortages saw the paper size and advertising volumes shrink.
In 1946, the Herald’s circulation compared favourably with that of the Sun News-Pictorial. This was maintained until 1954, when the Herald’s circulation was Australia’s largest for an afternoon paper and exceeded by only a few internationally. Quality news content, well-written features, solid business coverage, American-style personality by-lines and sport underscored its appeal. With multiple editions, the Herald captured the public transport commuter market, and a fleet of 62 delivery vans travelled more than a thousand miles daily around Melbourne’s suburbs.
The Herald made news and influenced public attitudes, notably in opposition to the Chifley Labor government’s plans to nationalise the banks. The Coalition was supported at election time but balance was sought in news and features, with individually voiced staff and contributors including trade union leader Dr Lloyd Ross, architect Robin Boyd, foreign affairs expert Denis Warner, columnist E.W. ‘Bill’ Tipping and Methodist stalwart Sir Irving Benson.
A challenge was mounted from the Age stable in 1969, but the Herald’s roots went deep and Newsday folded in May 1970. The Herald’s circulation peaked at 505,000 in 1971, but sales began to fall thereafter. Colour television was introduced in 1973 and the newspaper’s cost/ revenue equation was changing. A low cover price of four cents maintained until 1972 built circulation, which aided advertising revenue. As prices rose with inflation, circulation fell and advertising diminished.
John Fitzgerald’s editorship (1974–79) saw major news stories such as Peter Game’s scoop of the Khemlani affair in 1975 that helped to bring down the Whitlam Labor government. By the end of the 1970s, circulation had fallen below the 400,000 mark. By 1980, it was below 280,000. But with a loyal readership the Herald’s decline was slower than afternoon newspapers elsewhere. Attempts to revive the paper’s flagging fortunes saw HWT stalwart Harry Gordon brought back from Brisbane as editor-in-chief in 1984, followed by Les Carlyon early in 1986.
The successful takeover of the HWT by Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited in 1987 saw attention turned to reviving the masthead, valued now at only $5 million dollars. Eric Beecher was the first of a succession of youthful editors. The Herald became a three-section paper: front news, tabloid lifestyle, and business and sport. By 1989, circulation was down to 175,600 daily and Murdoch had accepted that revival was impossible. The Herald’s last issue was on 5 October 1990. On 8 October, a merger of the HWT’s two daily papers appeared in the 88-page Herald-Sun, billed as ‘a 24-hour newspaper’ and quickly dubbed by wags ‘The Hun’. The Sunday Herald, launched in 1989, became the Sunday Herald-Sun in 1991.
With the tabloid format preferencing the Sun News-Pictorial influence, the new Herald-Sun ran a variety of features from component papers. By late 1992 circulation was 578,000. Following massive investment by Murdoch in the Westgate Park Printing Complex, the first colour editions were rolled out in mid-1993.
The Herald Sun (without the hyphen from 1993) is host to the controversial columnist Andrew Bolt. Editor-in-chief Bruce Guthrie was sacked in 2008 and in consequence successfully sued News Limited. The Herald Sun is the highest circulating daily newspaper in Australia, with 416,000 copies daily and an estimated readership of 1.3 million.
REFs: D. Garden, Theodore Fink (1998); B. Guthrie, Man Bites Murdoch (2010); R.M. Younger, Let’s Go to Press (1996 HWT Resource Document).