A three-generation dynasty of newspaper editors began when a throat infection prompted Ernest Christian Sommerlad (1886–1952) to discontinue his calling as a Methodist missionary. He returned to his home town of Inverell in New South Wales in February 1912, and became a journalist on the Inverell Times for four months, and then the Inverell Argus, where he soon became the editor. He produced newspapers that probed more deeply than simply reporting daily events. In May 1918, he bought the Glen Innes Examiner with a bank loan guaranteed by local businessmen. With the editorial column as his pulpit, he preached about the need for district advancement. Sometimes his front page carried a banner declaring ‘The Examiner Does Not Shirk a Clear Cut Editorial Opinion’.
Sommerlad organised mergers of the competing newspapers in Glen Innes (1924), Inverell (1927) and Armidale (1929), bringing them under the umbrella of Northern Newspapers Pty Ltd, of which he was the managing director (1926–52). In 1929, he became the general manager of the Sydney-based Country Press Cooperative Co. of Australia Ltd (soon Country Press Ltd). An astute businessman, he rescued the company from financial difficulties, and became managing director (1932–52) and chairman (1948–52).
A founder of the Country Party, Sommerlad was treasurer of the separatist Northern New State Movement. On his death in 1952, the NSW Country Press Association established the annual E.C. Sommerlad Memorial Awards for Journalism. Sommerlad had demonstrated an intellectual grasp of the role of the provincial newspaper and what it could mean to its community. He articulated the standards that were held aloft as ideals for provincial newspaper editors in the final half of the 20th century.
His first son, Ernest Lloyd (1919–2014), became the secretary of the NSW Country Press Association in 1945, and was general manager of the business arm in 1951–61 and chairman of Northern Newspapers in 1955–61. He was federal director of the Federation of Australian Radio Broadcasters (later Commercial Radio Australia) (1965–70) and chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Council (1980–87).
Ernest Christian passed on the editorial torch to second son, David John Ross (1929– ), who inspired a generation of editors, such as Laurie Barber, Ron Robinson and Don McFadyen. David edited and managed the Glen Innes Examiner (1953–54), the Inverell Times (1955–71) and both papers (1971–77), before managing the Armidale Express (1977–81). He was executive editor of Rural Press Limited from 1982 to 1988, as well as president of the NSW Country Press Association (1983–86) and its executive director (1988–2003), and president of Country Press Australia (1987) and its executive director (1988–98).
David’s second son, John Wesley (1961– ), was the editor of the Hawkesbury Gazette (1985–87), managing editor of the Maitland Mercury (1988–90) and the Port Macquarie News (1990–96), and editor (1996–2002) and managing editor (2002–13) of the Tamworth-based Northern Daily Leader. He was also president of the NSW Country Press Association (1998–2000).
REFs: R. Kirkpatrick, Country Conscience (2000); information from David Sommerlad.