The Sun News-Pictorial was a morning daily tabloid newspaper begun in Melbourne in 1922 and closed in 1990, when it merged with the broadsheet Herald to form the Herald Sun. Part of the Herald and Weekly Times (HWT), it achieved the largest circulation of any Australian newspaper.
The Sun News-Pictorial was the idea of newspaperman Montague MacGregor ‘Monty’ Grover (1870–1943), who edited (Sir) Hugh Denison’s successful Sydney afternoon newspaper, the Sun, introducing brisk news reports and features like crosswords and cartoons. Denison appointed Grover in 1922 to edit a new paper, the Evening Sun, to challenge the Melbourne Herald, edited by (Sir) Keith Murdoch. Blocked by a no-competition agreement with six months to run, Grover proposed Australia’s first pictorial morning daily tabloid newspaper. The first issue was published on 11 September 1922, with Grover as editor. The Evening Sun followed, but heavy losses saw both papers sold to the HWT in 1925.
The HWT closed the Evening Sun but retained the morning paper with its winning formula: each day’s best photography on the front, back and centre pages, bright news copy, regular features, sport and cartoons. Former chief of staff of the Argus, (Sir) Lloyd Dumas, became editor. Sydney Deamer, E.G. Bonney and cartoonist Jim Bancks moved to the Sun News-Pictorial. Grover was offered the supervision of HWT magazines but drifted away. Former London Daily Mail pictorial editor Arthur Baker worked closely with Sun News-Pictorial editors Ralph Simmonds (from 1927) and George Taylor (from 1931) in the choice and presentation of photographs.
By 1933, with a circulation of 172,000, the Sun News-Pictorial was Australia’s largest selling daily. Nothing could curtail its progress. Much credit for the Sun News-Pictorial’s success in these years should go to its editor from 1946, J.C. ‘Jack’ Waters, a gregarious newspaper man who encouraged new writers, succinct copy, quality photography and comic strip artists like Stan Cross. Waters was close to managing editor and later HWT chairman (Sir) John Williams after Murdoch’s death in 1952.
Williams liked his papers pitched to a definable sample of the market—a man and his wife in their early thirties with two kids at school, paying off a house and a Holden car in a suburb like Moorabbin. Waters instructed Sun News-Pictorial journalists to only use words that a 14-year-old could understand. Melbourne’s suburban sprawl in these years helped fuel circulation, but the Sun News-Pictorial sold extensively into provincial and country Victoria as well. By the end of 1952, it had sales of more than 405,000—by far the largest of any daily morning Australian newspaper. As late as 1954, with 40 pages, it was still equal with the Herald but by 1956 the Sun News-Pictorial had taken the lead.
With newsprint now freely available, editors drew on American tabloid journalism and improved news coverage, adding more pictures and sections, including ‘Young Sun’, women’s pages and motoring. The closure of the Argus in 1957 saw another circulation spurt. With a growing emphasis on sport—especially VFL—and families, the Sun News-Pictorial’s visual appeal suited the new consumer age of television. Sun News-Pictorial journalists, now with by-lines and appearing on Herald Sun Television (HSV7), became household names: Alan Trengove, Lyle Turnbull, foreign affairs commentator Douglas Wilkie, sports journalist (and later editor) Harry Gordon, football writer Lou Richards, women’s pages writer Pat Jarrett and columnist Keith Dunstan. The low cover price of four cents, maintained until 1969, built circulation and aided advertising.
Active public contact was maintained through sponsored promotions and charity events: the Sun Home Show, the Sun Aria and the Sun Moomba Queen. Even with the price rises that followed, the Sun News-Pictorial’s readership proved loyal. Under Gordon’s editorship from 1968, circulation increased, with special sections on property and used cars expanding. Circulation peaked in 1971 at 650,000 copies a day. However, inflation saw the Sun News-Pictorial lose about 4500 buyers each year over the next five years.
The mid-1987 takeover of the HWT by Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited led to an effort to lift circulation, along with a further concentration on pictures, extended news coverage, special events, leisure, sport and the Saturday magazine. By 1988, circulation was 590,000. The problem was not the Sun News-Pictorial, but its broadsheet afternoon stablemate, the Herald. In May 1989, Rupert Murdoch commenced the Sunday Sun News-Pictorial and the Sunday Herald. Production of the two papers further burdened the HWT presses. Murdoch’s response was to merge the Sun News-Pictorial and the Herald, on 8 October 1990, into ‘Victoria’s first 24-hour newspaper’, the Herald-Sun (the hyphen was dropped in 1993).
REFs: M. Cannon (ed.), Hold Page One (1993); Let’s Go To Press (1996 HWT Resource Document).