Melbourne, the state’s capital, has two morning daily newspapers, the Age and the Herald Sun, and an afternoon free ‘pick-up’ tabloid for city commuters, Mx, also available on mobile.
The Age (1854– ) is owned by Sydney-based Fairfax Media. Formerly a broadsheet, it changed to ‘compact’ (tabloid) format in March 2013. The popular tabloid the Herald Sun, which began in 1840, and Mx, which began in 2001, are owned by Sydney-based News Corp Australia (formerly News Limited), a subsidiary of the New York-based News Corp. Between them, Fairfax Media and News Corp Australia also own around 80 per cent of Melbourne’s weekly suburban newspapers. The inroads of these multimedia conglomerates into country newspapers are less extensive: ownership of five of the seven regional dailies but only a handful of other non-metropolitan newspapers.
A continuing Australia-wide concern, the dangers arising from excessive concentration of media ownership were examined in Victoria in the late 20th century. For much of its existence, however, the state’s press has been characterised by competition, diversity and single local ownership. While its 1838 beginnings were later than in four of the five other states, Victoria’s press grew rapidly to become the most prolific in the Australian colonies, and the source of innovations in newspaper businesses throughout Australia, until falling behind New South Wales around 1900.
Newspaper publication in Victoria occurred before the Port Phillip District separated from New South Wales to become an independent colony. John Pascoe Fawkner (1792–1869), one of Melbourne’s original 1835 settlers, began publication of the Melbourne Advertiser on 1 January 1838. Copies of his weekly were handwritten until March, when a printing press was procured. In April, publication was terminated because the newspaper had not been registered in Sydney, as required by law. Subsequently, arrangements were made for registration in Melbourne and newspapers reappeared.
By 1840, there were three bi-weeklies, together amounting to a daily newspaper, excluding Sundays: the Port Phillip Gazette, the Port Phillip Patriot (another Fawkner enterprise) and the Port Phillip Herald, ancestor of the Herald Sun. The same year saw the start of a regional press, with the appearance of the Geelong Advertiser (1840– ) in the developing port township. With much newspaper activity during the 1840s, by the end of 1849 Melbourne, with a population of some 18,000, had three daily papers: the Melbourne Daily News (formerly the Port Phillip Patriot), the Melbourne Morning (formerly Port Phillip) Herald and the Argus, begun in 1846. The country press had also grown, with the Geelong Advertiser becoming a daily, and a newspaper presence in Portland and Belfast (later Port Fairy).
Independent colonial status, effective on 1 July 1851, was followed within weeks by promising gold discoveries in central Victoria, word of which brought about massive immigration and the spread of European settlement. Initially, rushes to the goldfields caused labour shortages and press growth was slowed. The Melbourne Daily News was incorporated into the Argus in 1852, but Melbourne regained three dailies with the start of the Age in October 1854. Intense rivalry between the Argus and Age centred on diametrically opposed political and economic policies. The Argus became increasingly conservative, siding with the established squattocracy and the forces of law and order, and supporting free trade; the Age, representing the aspiring gold-rush immigrants, propounded radical, liberal-reformist policies and advocated protective tariffs. For decades, all but the smallest country newspapers aligned themselves politically with one or the other.
Less ideological, the daily Herald came to be seen by Age proprietor David Syme as a threat, which he neutralised in 1868 by purchasing it, changing it to an afternoon newspaper, then selling it two years later. Within a few years the Age had the highest circulation of any newspaper in Australia and by 1892, it had passed 100,000. In Victoria, there were countless other relatively short-lived newspapers, particularly in the 19th century. Noteworthy are the Melbourne Daily Telegraph (1869–92) and the daily Evening Standard (1889–94). For a few years, before both were absorbed into the Herald, the metropolis had three morning and two afternoon dailies.
The Age, Argus and Herald—all broadsheets—continued into the 20th century, joined by the morning tabloid Sun News-Pictorial, begun in 1922 and bought by (Sir) Keith Murdoch’s Herald and Weekly Times (HWT) in 1925. Strikingly, photography covered the front page. Its afternoon companion, the Herald, had abandoned the standard sober columns of advertisements on its front page in 1889, but the Argus did so only in 1937 and the Age in 1941. There were short-lived attempts to break into the daily market, such as the evening Star (1933–36), published by the Argus proprietors. After rising early in the 20th century, circulations of the Age and Argus dropped between the World Wars; recovering during World War II, they rose modestly thereafter. The Argus ceased publication in 1957.
Morning readers were soon also offered national dailies: from 1963 the Australian Financial Review, from 1964 the Australian. Meanwhile, circulations of the Herald and Sun News-Pictorial, which had been increasing exponentially from the early 1930s, and which for periods were the highest in Australia, peaked in the early 1960s at over 500,000 and 650,000 respectively. The Herald’s circulation dropped equally dramatically from 1970, and in 1990 the paper merged with the Sun News-Pictorial to form the Herald Sun. Its circulation rose to around 600,000 in the early 1990s, then began to fall away, particularly on Saturdays. The Age, which had an unsuccessful afternoon counterpart, Newsday, for nine months from 1969 to 1970, peaked at 250,000 in the mid-1980s; with a slowly declining circulation—albeit maintaining higher Saturday levels—it continued into the 21st century. With many readers switching to online access, the circulation of the printed editions of the dailies declined drastically. In 2013, circulation of the Age was 133,981 on weekdays and 198,537 on Saturday; circulation of the Sunday Age was 167,775, of the Herald Sun 399,638 weekdays and 399,730 Saturday; and that of the Sunday Herald Sun was 470,326.
Melbourne’s weekly press has been prolific and heterogeneous. From the mid-1850s into the 1860s, when transport was still irregular, the dailies had weekly editions (such as the Weekly Age, 1855–68) for distribution to the bush. These were superseded in the 1860s by weekly newspapers that also included extended magazine-type material. The Leader, companion to the Age and first published in 1856, ran until 1957. The Australasian (est. 1864), companion to the Argus, was replaced in 1946 by the Australasian Post, which ceased in 1996. The Weekly Times, companion to the Daily Telegraph until 1892 and then to the Herald, expanded to national circulation as a rural newspaper, and continues today. In the later 19th century, the dailies also had companion monthly illustrated newspapers: for the Herald, the Illustrated Melbourne Post (est. 1862), in 1869 absorbed into the Illustrated Australian News for Home Readers; the Argus had the Australasian Sketcher (1873–89). Falling outside the definition of newspaper in the Printers and Newspapers Registration Statute, which limited frequency of publication to 26 days or less, these monthlies otherwise undoubtedly met legal criteria. Initially directed at an English readership, they were published just before the monthly mail boat sailed. By the mid-1890s, all had ceased.
For weeklies, the line between newspaper and periodical or magazine is often blurred. Among a host of Christian denominational (‘sectarian’) newsletters and magazines springing up in the 19th century, the weekly Advocate (1868–1990), intended for Catholic readers and opposed by the Age for its Irish Catholic stance, was a general newspaper for many decades. The Australian Jewish News, one of several newspapers published for the Jewish community, began in 1935; there are now weekly editions in Melbourne, Sydney and Queensland.
Melbourne Punch (1855–1925) and Table Talk (1885–1939) were quasi-newspapers. Each dealt somewhat satirically with current events—the former chiefly in the field of local politics, the latter with happenings in theatre, art and the Melbourne social whirl. From the 1880s there was a spate of sports weeklies, most focused on horse racing. From 1902 to 1994, the sensationalist Sydney Truth, dealing in scandal and social injustice, had a Victorian edition. In 1972, the groundbreaking Nation Review commenced. Known as the ‘Ferret’, it was published until 1981, foreshadowing the fierce investigative journalism that would develop in Australia during the 1980s, with the Age a leading practitioner. It was formed by a merger of the Sydney Nation and the Melbourne Review, which began in 1970 as the Sunday Review.
Sunday newspapers appeared in Victoria only after 1889 legislation prohibiting their publication was repealed in April 1969. The Sunday Observer started in September, to be succeeded by several others, including the Sunday Press—an unlikely joint venture of the Age and the Herald from 1973 until 1989, when each started its own Sunday issue, as did the Sun News-Pictorial. The Saturday Paper, a weekly aiming at quality long-form coverage of news and current affairs, began in March 2014; published by Melbourne-based Schwartz Media, its print edition was initially available in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra, then extended to Brisbane and Adelaide.
A suburban press began for Melbourne in the 1850s, with newspapers for a few of the inner suburbs and for outlying villages such as Brighton and Williamstown. Reflecting the remarkable expansion of Melbourne in the 1880s, the number of titles rose dramatically, with 48 suburban newspapers for some 30 suburbs in 1892, before the depression forced closures. This number was not equalled again until the 1950s, after which it increased steadily, as country areas became part of the metropolis. In 2013, there were some 71 suburban papers.
The character of suburban newspapers changed radically during the later 20th century. From a standard newspaper format with locally slanted news and comment, most came to have a magazine format, with much use of colour, and bulked out by a huge volume of property advertisements. Distributed free into letterboxes, their circulation figures became huge. The relatively few news features were frequently syndicated in several papers, an outcome of the ownership concentration that developed progressively during the 20th century.
At the end of the 19th century, there were already several newspaper groups. During the 20th, Leader Community Newspapers, which developed out of the Mott family newspaper business, was sold in 1986 to the HWT and in due course came into the News Limited stable. In parallel, David Syme & Co. Ltd acquired groups of suburban papers for Syme Community Newspapers, becoming Fairfax Community News Victoria after John Fairfax & Sons took over Syme, and in 2013 issued with the Fairfax Media imprint. Outside this network, irregularly from 1968 to 1990, a publication variously titled Koorier, National Koorier, Koorier 2, Koorier 3 and Jumbunna was issued in Fitzroy for the Aboriginal community by the Victorian Aborigines Advancement League and the Koorie Information Centre.
Victoria’s ethnic press, based in Melbourne, came into being with post-World War II immigration. A few foreign-language papers had appeared for short periods during the gold-rush 1850s—among them, German, Swedish and French publications in Melbourne and the English and Chinese Advertiser in Ballarat. For almost 100 years thereafter, there were only occasional publications, notably the Chinese Times (1902–15). Starting in 1949 and reflecting migrant ethnicities, there was a spate of Albanian, Estonian, Czech, Dutch, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Russian and Serbo-Croatian (Yugoslav) publications, most monthly and many short-lived. Survivors into the 21st century include the Italian Il Globo, begun in 1959 as a weekly, published briefly as a daily and tri-weekly, in 2013 bi-weekly; the bi-weekly Greek Neos Kosmos (1957– ); and a Polish weekly from 1950. In the early years, a major objective was to assist orientation and assimilation; later, the aim of preserving cultural traditions and languages came to the fore. In 2013, the ethnic spread of publications (some issued infrequently and more like magazines than newspapers) in Melbourne reflected changing immigration demographics—including Chinese, Dutch, Finnish, Greek, Hungarian, Indian, Italian, Korean, Pakistani, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian and Vietnamese. The Chinese community appeared to be the best served, with the Australian Chinese Daily (1987– ) circulating nationally and several commercially oriented weeklies.
Victoria’s country press has maintained a strong and distinct identity, and been a powerful political influence. After a steady start in the Port Phillip years, from the mid-1850s there was a mushrooming of newspapers in the goldfields regions of central and north-eastern Victoria, followed in the next decade by papers for the towns in surrounding new agricultural districts, and in Gippsland and the Western District. In the 1870s, the country press spread to the newly settled Wimmera, the Goulburn Valley and along the Sydney–Melbourne transport corridor. In the 1880s, it penetrated the Mallee region of north-west Victoria; in the 1890s, there were newspapers for the last region to be settled, South Gippsland. New press sites resulted from closer settlement. A 1892 press directory lists 177 newspapers appearing in 121 country towns and displays the three-level country newspaper network that had evolved: three provincial cities—Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo—as multi-paper press sites, each with three dailies; large towns with at least two competing papers, usually published twice or three times a week; and a great scattering of small towns with a single paper—usually a weekly. A peak was reached in 1914, with 226 papers for 156 towns. Throughout the 20th century, the network remained, but with fewer press sites and very few with more than one newspaper—the additional papers often of the free, letterboxed advertisement-rich suburban weekly variety.
By 2013, country newspaper provision amounted to 92 papers for 67 towns. Many districts surrounding Melbourne had been incorporated into the greater metropolitan area; the advent of alternative media—radio in the 1920s and television in the 1950s—was an additional factor in the decline of newspaper numbers. Throughout Australia, many a small and shrinking township lost services, the local newspaper included, and had to turn to a large regional town to supply their news. Cessations and mergers were actively encouraged by the Victorian Provincial Press Association from the early 20th century, in the interests of financial viability, so the availability of competing outlets for diverging views was lost. However, except for regional dailies, country newspapers remaining in print were no longer major sources of general news and comment for their local readers, but had a basically parochial function of amplifying news and views in the Melbourne daily papers—which, from the late 19th century, were carried by rail promptly to all parts of Victoria.
Victoria’s regional daily newspapers have retained, if not enhanced, their importance. In 2013, there were seven: the Geelong Advertiser (a daily from 1849), the Bendigo Advertiser, the Ballarat Courier, the Warrnambool Standard, Mildura’s Sunraysia Daily, the Shepparton News and the Border Mail from 1999, published in Albury, New South Wales (where it began) and in Wodonga, Victoria. Circulations in 2013 ranged from 6908 for the Mildura paper to 22,491 (39,389 Saturday) for the Geelong Advertiser—small compared with those for Melbourne dailies, but comparatively healthy in proportion to populations served. Ownership of country newspapers in 2013 was also less concentrated than in Melbourne. News Limited owned the Geelong Advertiser and a few other papers; Fairfax Media owned the other four regional dailies and several other papers. Otherwise, proprietors were based in rural Victoria, with around two-thirds of the papers coming under the chain ownerships that began to form in the 1920s, replacing the earlier norm of single ownership by a family, a partnership or a local joint stock company. The two largest chains were the Elliott Provincial Newspaper Group Pty Ltd, with the Sunraysia Daily (1920– ) as a leading paper, and the McPherson family company with the Shepparton News (1877– ) as its flagship. There were some eight other chains, each owning from two to five newspapers in neighbouring clusters. About one-third of the rural papers were still separately owned. In 2013, the circulations of country newspapers, including the dailies, were considerably less than those for suburban papers: roughly 86 per cent of papers under 20,000, 11 per cent between 20,000 and 50,000, and two titles (both Geelong weeklies) over 50,000.
Victoria’s press, with a strong sense of its colonial identity, also took a leading part in developing an Australia-wide press network. The esprit de corps that manifested early led to the formation of colony-wide associations and organisations, with links and influence beyond Victoria’s borders. The Australian Typographical Circular (1858–60) issued by the Victoria Typographical Association (est. 1851), and the Australasian Typographical Journal (1870–1916) by the Melbourne Typographical Society (est. 1867), both circulated inter-colonially. Printing trade journals, they were also sources of useful current information to personnel engaged in newspaper production.
Inaugurated in Melbourne in 1892, the Australasian (at first called Australian) Institute of Journalists had an ambitious program of standards-setting, accreditation, education and lobbying for legislative reform. Disbanded by 1897, it was a forerunner and impetus to the formation in 1910 of the Australian Journalists’ Association (later the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance) in Melbourne, when the city was temporarily the federal capital after Federation.
In the 19th century, the Argus and Age proprietors each allied with Sydney and Adelaide counterparts to operate competing cable news services and share copy—features from serial fiction to expedition reports. In the 20th century, state borders were crossed when single newspaper proprietorship gave way to media empires. (Sir) Hugh Denison, chairman of Sun Newspaper Ltd in Sydney, moved into Melbourne, starting the Sun News-Pictorial in 1922 and the Evening Sun in 1923. In a counter move, Keith Murdoch, managing editor of the HWT, bought the former and caused the latter to be closed.
In an ironic reversal, in 1987 Rupert Murdoch’s News Limited took over the HWT. John Fairfax & Sons had tried unsuccessfully to do this in 1979, and had also, for several decades, set its sights on David Syme & Co. Ltd, increasing its shareholding and eventually, in 1983, effecting ownership. With Fairfax in financial distress and expressions of interest from overseas in the David Syme subsidiary, in 1988 Age staff, with public support, drew up a charter of editorial independence for the daily. Public concern about the extent of ownership concentration had already caused the Hamer Liberal government to instigate an inquiry chaired by Justice J.G. Norris, which reported in 1981 that regulation would be in the public interest. A follow-up working party established by the Cain Labor government reported in 1990, recommending Victorian legislative action and a major public inquiry—preferably national in scope.
Press regulation, subsumed under media (radio, television and newspaper) regulation, has become a national matter, subject largely to Commonwealth legislation. The Victorian requirement for newspaper registration was repealed in 1998. In 2005, Victoria—along with other states—agreed to uniform defamation laws and passed a new Act reflecting this. Cross-media ownership regulation was addressed in the Commonwealth Broadcasting Services Act 1992 and subsequent amendments. Further action in relation to printed newspapers is complicated by the rapid supply and takeup of news and newspapers online, entailing declining print readerships and redirection of income-bearing advertisements, and raising the divisive question of charges for online use. In 2013, most of Victoria’s newspapers had some online availability and a few imposed a charge for full-text access.
REFs: R. Kirkpatrick, The Bold Type (2010); E. Morrison, Engines of Influence (2005); Australasian Institute of Journalists Papers (Melbourne University Archives).