NORTHERN TERRITORY NEWS
The Northern Territory News is a morning tabloid published in Darwin and distributed throughout the Northern Territory. It is known for its garish covers, often featuring photo- montages of rampaging crocodiles, and its tongue-in-cheek headlines about UFO sightings and public nudity—sometimes all on the same front page.
The Northern Territory News was founded in 1952 to counter the Northern Standard trade union newspaper, the only other paper being produced in post-war Darwin. Initial efforts by the federal government to diminish the Standard’s influence were shelved with the newspaper’s suspension after the bombing of Darwin in February 1942 and the imposition of military rule in the Territory. The Standard was re-established in May 1946, but by 1949 the Chifley Labor government had asked Canberra journalist Don Whitington to look into the establishment of a more conservative newspaper in Darwin. He solicited the help of his business partner, former Liberal Party public relations officer Eric White, and they chose John Coleman as their publisher. He was allocated £1000 worth of shares, but Whitington and White retained a controlling interest in the paper.
The first issue was published on 8 February 1952. After appearing as a weekly for its first two years, it moved to twice-weekly afternoon publication, then tri-weekly in 1960, and became an afternoon daily (Monday to Friday) in 1964. It published its first Saturday edition on 20 April 1968.
In the days following Cyclone Tracy on Christmas Eve 1974, staff produced an information sheet from a small press in the Darwin Police Station. The first four-page post-cyclone edition appeared from the repaired press on 31 December 1974, listing the dead and injured, and providing advice on evacuation. The Northern Territory News then recommenced as an afternoon daily, published Monday to Friday, from February 1975.
In 1977, a new web off-set press was installed, bringing a long overdue shift to modern photo-composition. A Saturday edition was reintroduced in July 1979 and the paper reverted to morning publication in 1991, a schedule it has since retained. A sister paper, the Sunday Territorian, was launched on 7 October 1984, edited by Gary Shipway. The NT News, as it was renamed in 2010, celebrated its 60th anniversary on 8 February 2012 by publishing its first full-colour edition. In 2013, the NT News had a circulation of 16,508 on weekdays and 25,375 on Saturdays.
The first editor was Mac Jeffries, who declared that the newspaper’s intention was to ‘fight for North Australia’ and ‘work for the progress and prosperity of everyone in the Northern Territory’. Jim Bowditch was appointed editor in 1955. He was to head the newspaper for 18 years, win a Walkley Award and become well known for crusading on many issues, from Aboriginal human rights to the treatment of the Territory by the federal government.
Swan Breweries bought John Coleman’s shares in the paper in 1960. Around the same time, Whitington and White sold their controlling interest in the paper to News Limited, which took full control of the paper in 1964. News Limited appears to have confidence in the paper’s editorial staff and its future profitability, as evidenced by its investment in a new $18 million printing press in 2012.
Although the NT News began life with an avowedly anti-communist stance, over the years it has often adopted liberal causes, particularly during Bowditch’s editorial reign. In more recent decades, it has taken a more neutral political line, even though it remains highly parochial and a staunch supporter of statehood for the Territory. Along with much of the Australian mainstream media, the News has been subject to criticism for its representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, but it is probably also correct to say that it is just as likely to expose institutional and casual racism in the Territory as to perpetuate it.
From its earliest days, the NT News was central to the life of Darwin and the wider Territory. It remains one of the main sources of information about events in the city, from social gossip and sporting results to cyclone warnings and the Territory’s often-fraught relationship with the Commonwealth government.
It is unconcerned by criticism of its tabloid editorial style, seeing itself as an expression of Territorians’ unique view of the world, epitomised by its website slogan, ‘Only in the Territory’. In covering its 50th anniversary in February 2011, ABC Television’s 7.30 described it as ‘Australia’s most outrageous newspaper’: ‘It’s bizarre and offbeat and a little bit wild and I think that is great,’ senior NT News journalist Nigel Adlam remarked. Territory Member of the federal House of Representatives Warren Snowdon, however, contended in his interview that the paper ought to make greater efforts ‘in terms of providing informed discussion’.
Many born-and-bred Territorians bristle at criticism of their paper, and the Territory’s isolation means that other national dailies usually arrive a day or even two after publication and typically cost twice their masthead price.
REFs: Northern Territory News, Doing the Impossible (1985); D. Whitington, Strive to be Fair (1977).