The Newcastle Herald is the ‘Voice of the Hunter’, the premier newspaper for Newcastle and the Hunter Valley of New South Wales, the only six-day-a-week local newspaper in the area and the largest-circulating regional daily in Australia. Its publisher, Newcastle Newspapers Pty Ltd, is the region’s largest media organisation.
The Newcastle Chronicle and Hunter River District News, the newspaper to which the Newcastle Herald traces its roots, first appeared on 28 August 1858, four pages with a sixpenny price. The brainchild of a Newcastle Customs agent, George Tully, the Newcastle Chronicle succeeded and moved from weekly to tri-weekly, consigning to the scrap heap competitors the Newcastle Free Press (1861–62), Newcastle Telegraph (1863–66), Newcastle Standard (1866–67), Northumberland Herald (c. 1867) and Newcastle Pilot (1867–79).
The Newcastle Herald’s other ‘parent’ was the Miners’ Advocate and Northumberland Recorder, launched from Wallsend on 21 February 1873 by publisher John Sweet, who successfully targeted miners with a newspaper that defended the rights of the working class. In 1876 Sweet and his father-in-law, James Fletcher, a Scottish-born coal miner, and later Member for Newcastle in the NSW Legislative Assembly, moved the newspaper to Newcastle and made it a daily. The first Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate appearing on 3 April.
Within three months, the Newcastle Chronicle merged with the Newcastle Herald under the masthead of the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (incorporating Newcastle Chronicle). An advocate of improving miners’ wages and working conditions, the Herald got offside with businessmen, who refused to advertise. In 1884, the paper was struggling and Fletcher was in debt for £4500, but the public rallied and raised money to save their paper. Fletcher sold the Herald in 1889 to local businessman Hudson Berkeley (1859–1923) and the Palmer and Johnson families. Palmer moved on, and Johnson died in 1905, leaving his 45 per cent share to his family, while Berkeley held 55 per cent. In 1908, the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate Pty Ltd was formed, with Berkeley governing director.
Since the Chronicle, which covered the 1866 wreck of the Cawarra steamship, the Herald has covered all the Hunter’s major stories: the opening of BHP steelworks in 1915 (and its closure in 1999), the Bellbird mine disaster of 1923, the 1955 Maitland flood, the 1942 shelling of Newcastle by a Japanese submarine, and, more recently, the 1979 Star Hotel riot and 1989 Newcastle earthquake.
After being appointed general manager in 1928, William Edward Lingard embarked on a much-needed modernisation of buildings, plant and editorial outlook. Photographs were published daily from 1933, and news replaced classified advertising on the front page from 28 June 1941. The popular Newcastle Sun (est. 1918) was acquired as an afternoon stablemate in 1936.
Newcastle Newspapers Pty Ltd was formed as a holding company in 1958. In 1960, Sir Frank Packer’s Australian Consolidated Press and Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited made tentative but unsuccessful offers to buy the Herald and the Sun. The following year, John Fairfax & Sons bought the Johnson shares. Control passed to Sydney Wansey, the adopted son of Hudson Berkeley, until Fairfax achieved outright ownership in 1977.
The Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate became the Newcastle Herald in 1980 (the year the Newcastle Sun was closed). In 2003, its name was shortened again, to the Herald; ‘Newcastle’ returned to the title in 2010.
In 1979, the Newcastle Herald became the most technologically advanced newspaper in Australia with computer production, in 1986 full-colour printing arrived and in 1994 the Newcastle Herald moved to electronic page layout. In 1998, it switched successfully from broadsheet to tabloid, with a 20 per cent circulation increase.
The Newcastle Herald has won numerous Walkley Awards, including the Gold Walkley in 1981 for a series of articles by John Lewis about a coup on the board of television station NBN3. In 2013, Joanne McCarthy, whose reporting since 2007 has been pivotal in creating a Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, was awarded the Gold Walkley.
The Newcastle Herald sponsors more than 50 community and charitable events each year. In 2013, the Herald recorded a circulation of 34,968 on weekdays and 54,297 on Saturdays.
REF: R. Kirkpatrick, Country Conscience (2000).