HERALD AND WEEKLY TIMES
The Melbourne-based media group, a subsidiary of News Corp Australia, originated in 1840 when George Cavanagh, a former editor of the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, first published the Port Phillip Herald. In 1849, the newspaper moved to daily publication as the Port Phillip Morning Herald. In 1855, it underwent further changes in name, first to the Melbourne Herald and then the Herald. In 1869, the Herald became an afternoon newspaper. Its fortunes had fluctuated, but greater stability came in 1871 when it was acquired by a partnership headed by Samuel Winter, founder of the Advocate, who was to become editor and managing director. By 1880, daily circulation had reached 30,000.
Following the death of his partner John Halfey in 1889, Winter arranged for a consortium to buy Halfey’s half-share. The investors included the printer Alfred Massina, aspiring state politician and lawyer Theodore Fink and financier William Baillieu. In 1891, the Herald was bought by the City Newspaper Company. The following year, the purchaser also acquired the Weekly Times as part of the sale of the doomed Daily Telegraph. However, when the new owner failed to meet scheduled payments, Massina and Fink forced the company into liquidation and the Herald’s former proprietorship was restored. With the boon of a new title in the form of the Weekly Times, Winter resumed the managing editorship. Consolidation came with the purchase of the rival Evening Standard in 1894, and a change of name to the Herald and Standard Company Ltd followed. In 1895, Massina introduced modern linotype printing machines.
By the beginning of the 20th century, the Herald’s circulation was 50,000. Incorporation as a public company, the Herald and Weekly Times (HWT), came in 1902. Winter died in 1904 but Massina remained chairman until 1909. That year Fink marked his ascendancy to the role of chairman by representing the company at the first Imperial Press Conference in London. Frustrated in his attempt to enter federal politics, Fink’s public affairs ambitions would be channelled into building up the Herald.
The newspaper prospered during World War I, not least thanks to its ‘eyewitness’ war correspondent, (Sir) Keith Murdoch, who had been transferred to London in 1915 as managing editor of the United Cable Service (UCS), managed by the Herald and (Sir) Hugh Denison’s Sydney Sun.
In late 1920, Murdoch secured a promise of the editorship of the Herald from Fink—a move that created a bitter rival in Denison. Murdoch immediately set about establishing unilateral control of the HWT and began a modernisation process. Denison’s Associated Newspapers Ltd soon launched a challenge, entering the Melbourne market in 1922 with the morning tabloid Sun News-Pictorial, followed by the Evening Sun in 1923.
The newspaper battle sharpened the Herald, with Murdoch promoting human-interest stories and competitions, and improving crime and sports coverage. He launched a bi-weekly sporting paper, the Sporting Globe. A number of magazines were added to the HWT ranks during 1924, including the society weekly Table Talk and the Melbourne Punch. Titles such as the Australian Home Beautiful and Aircraft would later join the stable.
The Herald’s circulation continued to increase, and in mid-1925 Denison capitulated. The HWT took ownership of the profitable Sun News-Pictorial, which would ultimately rise to have the highest circulation of any Australian daily, while the Evening Sun was closed. (Another challenger, the afternoon Star, launched by the Argus in 1933, would also be fought off.) The HWT moved to purpose-built premises in Flinders Street, where it would remain for the next seven decades.
In early 1924, the HWT board approved the erection of a radio station on the Herald’s roof as part of its shareholding with the Broadcasting Company of Australia (BCA). HWT publications were central to promoting this station, 3LO, and advertising the Herald ‘Wireless News Service’. In 1925, a weekly radio program magazine, the Listener In, was launched. In 1929, the HWT gained a wholly owned radio station in the form of 3DB. Expansion continued so that by 1935 the HWT, and Murdoch personally, held interests in 11 of Australia’s 65 commercial radio stations. It even gambled on the short-lived innovation of a Herald Newsreel. A more successful venture was the introduction of public opinion polling to Australia in 1941 by finance writer Roy Morgan.
Murdoch drove HWT expansion beyond Victoria, beginning in 1926 with the purchase of the West Australian by a syndicate including William Baillieu, W.S. Robinson and the HWT board. In 1929, the HWT syndicate bought the failing Register in Adelaide. Control of the Advertiser followed, so that by 1931 the city’s press was monopolised. The HWT began wielding political influence across increasing parts of the country through its coordinated strategies and syndicated coverage.
The first edition of the HWT’s monthly internal magazine, House News, appeared in November 1929. It would run until 1986. The HWT board was often the scene of splits and infighting. Theodore Fink intended his son, Thorold, and not his former protégé, Murdoch, to follow him as chairman. In a bitter private account, Fink sniped that Murdoch had plotted to make the HWT ‘entirely a Baillieu–K.M. concern’. Theodore Fink died in 1942, with Thorold killed in an accident just months later. Murdoch became HWT chairman. In 1948, Murdoch persuaded the HWT board to sell him its holdings in the Adelaide News while retaining few Herald shares. He retired in 1949, although he retained the chairmanship of HWT, and died in 1952. The company was left in rude health—in 1950, the HWT titles accounted for 38 per cent of total circulation in Australia—and would continue to prosper during the next two decades.
In 1956, the HWT took the leap into commercial television, launching HSV7, publicised as Herald Sun Vision. The following year, it gained control of Argus and Australasian Limited, including its stake in GTV9. The television shares were sold and the Melbourne Argus itself abruptly closed. By 1964, the Herald had reached a daily circulation of 500,000—a peak it would maintain for a decade. In 1969, the HWT again took ownership of West Australian Newspapers Ltd.
In 1979, the company managed to fight off Rupert Murdoch’s first takeover attempt, but it continued to weaken. A new chief executive, John D’Arcy, was installed in 1985, but he couldn’t arrest the slide. Towards the end of 1986, Rupert Murdoch began his second, successful, takeover bid for the HWT. In 1987, he finally gained control and the HWT became a division of News Limited, with the television interests sold off in order to comply with cross-media ownership rules. Direct family ties were reinstalled, with Keith Murdoch’s daughter Janet Calvert-Jones serving as chair of the board for 20 years until 2009. Her own daughter, Penny Fowler, took up the role in 2013 (the company was headed in the interim by Julian Clarke). The Herald was controversially folded into the Sun News-Pictorial to become the tabloid Herald Sun in 1990.
The HWT continues to publish the Herald Sun, Sunday Herald Sun, Weekly Times and mX (the Melbourne edition of News Corp’s free afternoon newspaper, founded in 2001) and their related digital versions. By 2013 weekday circulation of the Herald Sun had slipped to 416,027, though this remains the highest figure for any Australian daily.
REFs: R.G. Campbell, The First Ninety Years (1949); D.S. Garden, Theodore Fink (1998); W. Shawcross, Murdoch (1992).
TOM D.C. ROBERTS