Robert Harris, formerly a machinist at the Melbourne Argus, joined his two sons, Charles and Robert Jr, in Burnie to publish the twice-weekly Wellington Times from 1 October 1890. In 1897, the paper’s name was changed to the Emu Bay Times and North West and West Coast Advocate.
In January 1899, Charles launched the North Western Advocate, published daily in Devonport. After only 11 months of separate publication, the two papers were combined under the masthead the North Western Advocate and Emu Bay Times and published tri-weekly. On 2 December 1918, the Times was renamed the Advocate, and published daily.
Robert died in 1904 and Charles died in 1913, having nominated third son Russell as his successor as chairman and managing director of Harris and Company Ltd, and second son Len as deputy. Third son Selby was given responsibility for commercial printing. Russell nursed the company through the difficult war years, and by 1920 the Advocate was the sole daily newspaper in the north-west and west coast region of Tasmania. In 1928, the company purchased a four-unit Battle Creek, Michigan rotary press. The establishment of a newsprint mill in Burnie in the late 1930s stimulated the growth of the Advocate’s circulation to around 10,000.
Len’s son, Ian, and Selby’s son, Geoff, joined the company in the mid-1930s, and in 1957 the Advocate was the first paper in Tasmania to use spot colour and photographic film in photo-engraving. The company installed a photo-engraving plant in 1951. In 1968, the Advocate became the first daily newspaper in Australia to convert to lithograph (web offset) printing.
The fourth generation of the Harris family took the helm in 1964 when Len and Selby retired—Geoff took the chair and Lloyd became the newspaper manager. Ian was manager in Devonport and Geoff in commercial printing. The remaining member of the fourth generation, Jim, joined the company as circulation manager.
The company converted to phototypesetting in 1976 and in 1981, with all operations computerised. By the early 2000s, the majority of news and advertising photos in the Advocate were in full colour.
The Advocate was an industry leader for many years in its role as a regional daily newspaper. It won five regional newspaper industry awards for excellence and led the way in terms of technical change—among other innovations, it was the first paper in Tasmania to use facsimile transmission of classifieds. The Advocate’s circulation peaked at almost 27,000 in the 1980s.
Lloyd’s fifth-generation son, Nigel, was appointed manager of the Advocate in 1994 and served until his retirement in 1999. Geoff’s son Paul joined the company as secretary in 1975 and served as managing director from 1991 until his retirement in 2000. By 2003, with no family member working in the company and some shareholders wanting to convert their shares to cash, the board decided to sell the company as a going concern to Rural Press Limited.
In 2009, when printing was centralised in Launceston, the Advocate’s press was dismantled and sent to New Zealand. In 2013, the newspaper’s weekday circulation was 18,865.
REF: K. Pink, And Wealth for Toil (1990).