The Adelaide News was founded by James Edward Davidson (1870–1930), who began his career in journalism at the Port Augusta Dispatch. He joined the Melbourne Argus in 1897, covering the conventions that led to Federation in 1901, and was a central figure in the establishment of the Australian Journalists’ Association in 1911.
Davidson became the editor-in-chief and general manager of the Melbourne Herald in 1907, increasing circulation by 80 per cent. He left in 1918 after a disagreement with the Herald’s board and in 1919 acquired the Port Pirie Recorder and the Barrier Miner in Broken Hill. He became a controversial figure during the ‘Big Strike’ of 1919–20 when he encouraged his reporters to expose the sharp practices of some union organisers.
In 1922, Davidson moved to Adelaide and negotiated the purchase of two under-performing afternoon newspapers, the Adelaide Express and the Journal, along with the Sunday Mail. In 1923 he floated a public company, News Limited, to publish the News and the Sunday Mail. He sold his papers to the new company, acquired the Daily News in Perth and survived a costly failed attempt to start an afternoon newspaper in Hobart.
In March 1930, Davidson left Australia as a delegate to the Imperial Press Conference in London. The day before it opened on 1 June he died of pneumonia.
Davidson’s death provided an opportunity for the Herald and Weekly Times (HWT), which was establishing a chain of newspapers throughout Australia under the management of Sir Keith Murdoch. By his death in 1952, Murdoch controlled 50 per cent of News Limited, with his son, Rupert, inheriting the shares.
Relationships between Rupert Murdoch and his father’s former company soured quickly when Harold Giddy, one of the trustees of his estate, advised Sir Keith’s widow, (Dame) Elisabeth, that the newspaper shares should be sold to pay probate and retire other debts. Since the Brisbane Courier-Mail shares were sold to HWT, where Giddy was also chairman, Rupert Murdoch believed he was the victim of a blatant conflict of interest. His concerns about the intentions of the HWT group were confirmed when the Advertiser announced it would start a Sunday newspaper against the Mail in an attempt to force the young Murdoch to sell out of News Limited.
Rupert Murdoch was at the University of Oxford when he learned of the threat. His reaction was to fight—and he was determined to win. In the end, it was a draw—after two years, the Sunday Advertiser (1953–55) was closed in return for a half-share in the Sunday Mail. But Murdoch declared victory.
In 1959, under Murdoch’s energetic control and the editorship of Rohan Rivett, the News attracted international attention as it faced charges of seditious libel arising from a crusade to save the illiterate Aborigine Rupert Max Stuart from the gallows following his conviction for the murder of a girl in the outback town of Ceduna. Rivett’s campaign against the death sentence led to a Royal Commission, and his criticism of the commissioners provoked the charges of seditious libel. Stuart’s sentence was commuted and the News won the libel case, but Rivett was dismissed as editor in 1960. Visiting from the United States that year, W. Sprague Holden wrote: ‘The News can’t wait for Utopia. It is brash and sometimes brassy, but it is as alert and forthright about injustices as any newspaper in Australia.’
From the start, the News printed four editions a day, six days a week. Its circulation in 1923 was 30,000 but by the time Murdoch became publisher and managing director it had risen to 105,000. It peaked at more than 150,000 in the mid-1970s. The newspaper became a tabloid in 1948. The Saturday edition was closed in 1976.
When Rupert Murdoch purchased the HWT in 1987, he was obliged by competition laws to dispose of one title in Adelaide and Brisbane. He sold the News and the Brisbane Sun to Northern Star Holdings, but when that arrangement imploded, the titles were sold on to private companies. The News became the last surviving metropolitan afternoon daily in Australia; it was closed on 27 March 1992.
REFs: Sixty-Nine Years of Events from the Pages of the News (1997); http://www.samemory.sa.gov.au/site/ page.cfm?c=2627.