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Book & Print in New Zealand : A Guide to Print Culture in Aotearoa



Newspapers assume special significance in the New Zealand publishing context. Unlike the situation in Britain, where book publishing was established well over one century before newspapers were produced, in its New Zealand colony newspapers came first. J.E. Traue comments, 'If New Zealand's cultural topsoil was deficient in monographs, it was enriched by the newspaper printing press,' and he demonstrates this by citing numbers of newspapers produced in New Zealand: 16 by 1851; 28 by 1858; and between 1860 and 1879, 181 newspapers were founded (1985, pp.12-13). The study of newspapers in New Zealand, especially for the 19th century, therefore assumes special significance in the history of print culture in New Zealand.

This section is primarily concerned with publishing of newspapers, rather than with production aspects (see Chapter 2) and with the role of the media in the political process; note, however, that this distinction is on occasion difficult to draw and so the user can profitably read both sections. It is also heavily weighted to 19th- and early 20th-century newspapers, the period which has been most closely examined. Research into more recent aspects of the newspaper press have been largely concerned with control and ownership of the newspapers and with their role in the political process, which is not the primary interest of this section.

The student of the history of New Zealand newspapers needs to be constantly vigilant about distinguishing fact from fiction, and this is as true for recent material as it is for the 19th century. Journalists and editors, perhaps because their stock in trade is skill with words, manufacture their own myths and history rather more than other writers.

A considerable amount of information about newspapers is to be found elsewhere in this guide. Note in particular the section on Māori newspapers later in this chapter, and also the sections in Chapter 6 which note newspapers published in New Zealand in languages other than English and Māori.


New Zealand, as a British colony, took its models from that country and retained strong links to it. Newspapers were no exception. British immigrants were advised to arrange, before leaving, 'to receive a file of some weekly London paper' (Wakefield, quoted in Hankin, 1981, p.39); this provided important links to 'home' and reinforced the colonial's ties with Britain. However, no research has been carried out to establish more precisely the similarities between the British models and their New Zealand offshoots, nor to ascertain when and how divergence from the models occurred. Works about British newspapers such as Brown's Victorian News and Newspapers (1985) provide a starting point for such research, and Australian models should also be examined for similarities and differences.

Harvey in 'Formula for success' (1993b, pp.208-209, based on Day, 1990) has characterised the establishment of newspapers during this period. In the 1840s and 1850s newspaper ownership was unremunerated, political advantage rather than financial profit being the main incentive. During the 1860s many newspapers were established with financial profit as the main motive: both large city dailies and small circulation weeklies were feasible, and newspaper management became a full-time occupation. The 1870s saw a rapid expansion in the number of titles and the opening of the trans-Tasman cable in 1876; and in the 1880s the telegraph and other factors resulted in a uniform news service and newspapers played a role in establishing the national identity.

Newspapers were initially established in New Zealand as government organs, whether directly or indirectly subsidised, and were centred at or close to the main areas of European settlement. Government control of these early newspapers is an essential element to understand and has been examined in several studies, most notably in G.M. Meiklejohn's Early Conflicts of Press and Government (1953) and Rachel Salmond's Government Printing in New Zealand, 1840 to 1843 (1995). A still useful study of these early newspapers is Patricia Burns's 1957 thesis 'The foundation of the New Zealand press, 1839-50'. More recent is Patrick Day's The Making of the New Zealand Press (1990) which examines the shift of newspapers from a primarily political role to become profit-oriented businesses.

As European settlement expanded and as land communication links (rail and road) were gradually developed, more newspapers were established. A newspaper was regarded as an essential requisite of every progressive town, as this 1875 rhyme suggests: 'Our printing press, telegraph, and steam, / Proclaim our town's advance no idle dream' (Hogg 1875).

Newspapers (many of them short-lived) were established as a response to the sharp increase in immigration which followed the discovery of gold; the phenomenon of the goldfields newspaper in New Zealand has been briefly examined by Harvey (1994) but deserves more serious attention. The arrival of the telegraph in the mid 1860s caused a major shift in focus from local opinion to news from a wider catchment area, and the inclusion of overseas news became feasible when a cable link to Australia was established in 1876. Day (1986) notes some aspects of this in 'Julius Vogel and the press'. The 1860s and 1870s saw the founding of the major dailies, most of which are still publishing today.

Surprisingly little attention has been paid to the period of consolidation which occurred from the 1880s. As settlements became more established, their newspapers became more stable. Chains of newspapers were now feasible in country areas such as Taranaki and Southland where there was sufficient population density to support them. They were established by such 'rag-planters' as Joseph Ivess and J.H. Claridge: Ivess is examined by Harvey (1988), and Claridge's activities are noted by C.J. Claridge (c.1965), J.C. Claridge (1975), and Stella Jones (1979, 1980). The consolidation extended also to the main population centres where some vigorous battles for circulation ensued during this period. The 1890s saw the introduction of technological innovations, chief among them mechanical typesetting machinery (primarily Linotypes), which had a major impact on the personnel of the newspaper trade and on the trade organisations. Curiously, this appears not to have been studied in the New Zealand context.

Geographical conditions in New Zealand were particularly conducive to the establishment of small-town newspapers. (A study of the relationship between New Zealand's geography, its settlement patterns and its newspaper press is well overdue.) A short tongue-in-cheek but informative introduction to the difficulties which small-town newspaper operators faced is found in 'New Zealand's country press' (1906). This attributes the high rate of failure of such enterprises to lack of capital, especially during the initial period until a new country paper became firmly established.

The weekly newspapers, which were usually particularly targeted to rural areas, were influential—older New Zealanders will recall the pink covers of the Auckland Weekly News—and require further study. No serious research has been carried out into the contents of these or into their influence, for example as a factor promoting social cohesion. An interesting small study could also be made of the uses which were made of these weekly papers beyond those immediately intended: E.H. McCormick, reminiscing about his childhood, noted:

We had long ceased to paper our houses with the illustrated pages of the Auckland Weekly News, although traces of this pioneer custom were still to be found in the privies and occasionally in the kitchens of our rural neighbours . . . We had passed beyond that unsophisticated stage and now used the supplements issued with various journals, hanging them, suitably framed, on a background of floral or oatmeal wallpaper.
(McCormick, 1959a, p.12)

Up to World War II, the newspaper in New Zealand was essentially of two kinds: a large metropolitan paper, owned by a company or perhaps still under family control; or a small or medium-sized country paper, perhaps issued daily but more likely issued bi-weekly or tri-weekly, and very likely to be under the control of a working proprietor in the case of the smallest papers or, in larger towns, family owned and perhaps also family operated. World War II changed this. Skilled personnel was in short supply and many newspapers closed, never to reopen. (This, too, has not been well studied: for instance, a series of case studies to more closely identify the forces which caused closure could be carried out.) After 1945 the ownership of newspapers gradually consolidated into the hands of a small number of companies.

Other factors also reshaped the face of newspaper publishing in New Zealand, although few of these, if any, were unique to New Zealand. Overseas ownership of the media was hotly debated, especially during the early 1980s. Competition from other mass media was of concern. Technological change, this time from hot-metal to electronic typesetting, and reskilling caused considerable anxiety in the newspaper trade, as Hill and Gidlow (1988) demonstrate. The rise of free community papers ('shoppers') is a phenomenon which warrants further study. The combination of changing demographics and changing economics of production have resulted in casualties, recently the Manawatu Herald, well over one century old, in May 1997.

Media comment about newspaper publishing in the 1980s and 1990s is plentiful and is usually focused on the question of ownership and control, especially in relation to ownership by overseas companies or by investment houses. Some of the most informative of this writing is the media comment found in the monthly magazines North and South and Metro. Examples include Pat Booth's 'Catch a falling star: Christchurch's newspaper blues' (1991), Carroll du Chateau's 'Why two old bodgies couldn't save the Star' (1991, about the Auckland Star) and Jim Tucker's 'Sunday snooze' (1994, about Auckland's Sunday newspapers). The indexes to current New Zealand periodicals can be used to identify similar material.


Harvey (1991a) summarises the history and current state of the bibliography of 19th-century newspapers published in New Zealand, concluding that they are 'bibliographically well controlled but . . . only to a limited degree'. To locate surviving copies the starting point is Harvey's Union List of Newspapers (1987). Still lacking is detailed bibliographical work to provide a full account of the number of newspapers published, where they were published, and their impact on New Zealand society, for by no means all newspapers published in New Zealand have been preserved. Harvey has made a preliminary beginning on this for 19th-century newspapers (Harvey 1989b). Other listings, compiled for specific reasons, also exist and are useful to the researcher; for example, the List of Newspapers Placed on the Register at the General Post Office, Wellington was first published in about 1883 and notes titles registered in order to be eligible for cheaper postal rates.

Few New Zealand newspapers have been indexed. Those indexes to individual titles which have been compiled are listed in Peacocke's Newspaper Indexes in New Zealand (1994) and also Harvey (1987). Useful detailed indexes to a range of titles published in one city or region also exist in libraries throughout the country; an example is the index located in the Dunedin Public Library, to references about newspapers published in Dunedin city.

The major collection of New Zealand newspapers is at the National Library of New Zealand in Wellington. Significant collections also exist at Auckland Public Library and at the Hocken Library, University of Otago (these are especially strong for local titles) and at the British Library, London. The National Library of New Zealand's microfilming programme has provided increased access to many newspapers.

Scholefield's Newspapers in New Zealand (1958) remains the only general survey, but is not error free and should be used with caution. Much briefer general accounts are those by Cohen (1922) and Mills (1940) which incline towards the myth-making approach to newspaper history often favoured by journalists. Ruth Butterworth (1989) has provided a more recent, but regrettably short, overview.

No recent studies have been made of newspapers in particular regions or localities, yet there is considerable scope for such studies, particularly for the 19th and early 20th centuries when local and regional interests overrode national interests, and when communications channels were not fully developed. Existing studies include F.A. Simpson's 'Survey of the newspapers and magazines of the Province of Otago' (1948) for Otago, A.A. Smith's Printing in Canterbury (1953) and A.E.J. Arts's A History of the Canterbury Master Printers' Association, 1889-1989 (1989) for Canterbury, and R.F. Johncock's Brief History of the Press (1991) for Hawkes Bay.

Material about local newspapers and their history is frequently present in local histories. Two examples of the many which abound can be found in Tauranga 1882-1982 ('Communications', 1982) and in Bagnall's Wairarapa (1976).

Newspapers in Māori are noted later in this chapter. Newspapers in languages other than English and Māori are noted in Chapter 6.

The only detailed published history of an influential daily newspaper is R.B. O'Neill's 1963 study of the Christchurch Press. Other newspapers await similar detailed studies. More plentiful are studies which address specific periods during the life of a newspaper or a newspaper business. Two works based on work originally submitted as university theses are Salmond's Government Printing in New Zealand, 1840-43 (1995) which examines John Moore's role in the Auckland Newspaper and General Printing Co., and the role of the newspaper in the governmental process in a fledgling British colony; and Lishi Kwasitsu's Printing and the Book Trade in Early Nelson (1996) which notes the Nelson Examiner from 1842 to 1874. Frances Porter's Born to New Zealand (1989), a biography of Jane Maria Atkinson, includes in passing much about the day-to-day editorial concerns of running the Taranaki Herald during its early years. Harvey (1994) notes one year of the Inangahua Herald, Reefton, a case study of the setting up of a goldfields newspapers. R.C.J. Stone's biographies of the Auckland businessman Logan Campbell (1982, 1987) include much about the day-to-day running and financing of the Southern Cross. Many similar works have been published.

Anniversary issues—especially centennial issues—of newspapers may provide useful information, although the user should take into account their often anecdotal and not always critical approach. Some which contain useful newspaper history (as distinct from anecdote, or reproductions of early issues) are:

  • Taranaki Herald Centennial Issue 1952
  • Taranaki Daily News Centennial Number, 14 May 1957
  • The Otago Daily Times First Hundred Years, 1861-1961, 15 Nov. 1961
  • The Ensign 1878-1978 (Gore)
  • 120 Years: The Nelson Evening Mail, 1866-1986, 11 March 1986

Theses are also an important source of studies of individual newspapers or of specific periods of their lives. An example of this genre is Graeme Robinson's 'The Evening Press 1884-94' (1967).

An unusual, perhaps unique, source for newspaper history is a film running just over two minutes which depicts some of the activities involved in producing the Taranaki Herald in 1912 (The Production of the Taranaki Herald and Budget, 1912). Its shot list notes: 'Public Offices and Office Staff; Editorial Room; Linotypes, setting the evening paper; Stereo room, casting plates for printing press; Machine room, Foster Rotary single reel press; Premises; Exterior shot of building, people rushing out with newspapers.'

The only newspaper company history is Leslie Verry's 1985 study of Wellington based Independent Newspapers Ltd (INL). This contains histories of the individual newspapers which eventually combined to form INL, chief among them the Evening Post, the Dominion, Truth, the Waikato Times, the Manawatu Evening Standard, the Southland Times and the Timaru Herald; and more recent history of the company and its mergers and takeovers. Verry's final chapter is titled 'How independent are Independent Newspapers?', the theme of much of the recent writing about newspapers in New Zealand.

Much has been published about individual newspaper personnel, although it has not yet been collected into a directory of printing trade personnel. Starting points are the entries in biographical compendiums. The biographical entries in the Cyclopedia of New Zealand have been extracted and reproduced in Printing, Bookselling and their Allied Trades in New Zealand c.1900 (1980). The Dictionary of New Zealand Biography (1990- ) notes the biographies of some newspaper personnel, and the earlier Dictionary of New Zealand Biography (ed. Scholefield, 1940) is still a valuable source. For the late 1870s and early 1880s useful biographical data about newspaper personnel (especially those who were itinerant, moving within New Zealand as well as between New Zealand and other countries, mainly the Australian colonies and California) is present in the New Zealand Press News and Typographical Circular and the Colonial Printers' Register.

There are also many periodical articles and monographs with biographical content. An early Wellington newspaperman and his role in the New Zealand Colonist and Port Nicholson Advertiser (Wellington, 1842-43) can be found in Coleridge's 'Edward Catchpool, Master Printer in London and Wellington' (1993). The newspaper activities of Barzillai Quaife, the editor of the anti-government newspapers the New Zealand Advertiser and Bay of Islands Gazette and the Bay of Islands Observer published in Kororareka (Russell), New Zealand's first seat of government, are noted in Peter Kennett's biography (1991). From a later period Alexander McMinn's activities have been documented by Frean (1985). The activities of J.H. Claridge in establishing numerous newspapers in the early 20th century can be read about in at least four sources (C.J. Claridge, c.1965; J.C. Claridge, 1975; Jones, 1979, 1980). Autobiographical accounts by journalists include Robyn Hyde's Journalese (1934) and William Thomas's The Inky Way (1960).

Politicians in New Zealand have often also been newspapermen, not surprising as the newspaper was, until the advent of other mass media, the primary vehicle through which politicians could express local needs. They have been well investigated by New Zealand historians. Some, like Julius Vogel, have warranted more than one study (Dalziel 1986, Day 1986). McIvor's biography of John Ballance (1989) includes much about Ballance's newspaper, the Wanganui Herald. The newspaper activities of a less successful politician, Joseph Ivess, are noted by Harvey (1988).

Much unpublished biographical material still remains to be fully assessed. One example is the diary of David Burn, an invaluable and probably unique autobiographical account of the day-to-day activities of an Auckland newspaper editor and shipping correspondent during the 1840s and 1850s; a flavour of it can be found in Harvey (1990). Another example is T.S. Forsaith's 'Autobiographical memoranda' (1846- ) which includes material about the Daily Telegraph (Dunedin).

Press associations were formed for the purposes of controlling and disseminating news by regulating access to the telegraph. They played a key role in New Zealand's newspaper history. The New Zealand Press Association was established in 1879 as the United Press Association, continuing the activities of several similar organisations such as the Reuters Telegram Co. The United Press Association changed its name to the New Zealand Press Association in 1942. Throughout its 19th-century existence it was the cause of much contention, particularly because it acted as a cartel which represented the interest of its powerful members, the major metropolitan daily newspapers, and in effect ignored all others. It monopolised the supply of news to New Zealand's newspapers by its control of the telegraph and consequently was frequently criticised, for example by politicians—there was a parliamentary enquiry into its activities in 1880 (Press Telegrams Committee 1880)—and by newspaper proprietors who were not eligible to become members of the Association.

The standard history of the New Zealand Press Association and its predecessors is James Sanders's Dateline-NZPA (1979). An earlier and still useful work is George Fenwick's The United Press Association (1929). The archives of the New Zealand Press Association archives, held at the Turnbull Library, contain a wealth of information about the day-to-day operation of
Black and white photograph

At the time the Otorohanga Times was established as a bi-weekly newspaper in 1912 the population of the riding it served was only 822, and this photograph (by an unknown photographer) dates from then. The paper was founded by James Henry Claridge (1862-1946; in suit and bowler hat) who is associated with nine Waikato country newspapers, described in his 75 Years in New Zealand . . . (1938). He also wrote a 22-page verse account (The Iron Horse) of a trip on the Auckland-Wellington train, published in 1936. The Otorohanga Times continued until 1980 when it merged with the King Country Chronicle to form the Waitomo News. (Alexander Turnbull Library, reference number F-12462-1/2-)

the news gathering process, for both overseas news and local news redistributed to newspapers through the telegraph system leased to the Association. This material will repay further investigation.

Another relevant association history is that of the New Zealand Journalists' Association (1962), covering the period 1912 to 1962.

The day-to-day activities involved in running a newspaper and the economics of the newspaper business have been an area of interest to researchers. Harvey (1993a, 1993b) examines available evidence about profitability, circulation, income, expenditure, advertising revenue and similar factors for 19th-century titles. Other publications deal with specific aspects. Advertising is noted in Roderick Cave's 'Advertising, circulation and profitability' (1989), Coleridge's Building a Paper Economy (1991) and 'Newspaper advertising in a pioneer colony' (1995), and by Kwasitsu (1996). Aspects of government advertising, an important form of patronage for early New Zealand newspapers, is noted in Harvey (1988-89); there is scope for further study on this, and the returns of government advertising published in the AJHR provide a starting point. Circulation figures for 19th-century newspapers are noted in Harvey (1988-89), and in Harvey (1996) which examines circulation figures in relation to population size for a range of titles.

Aspects of the news-gathering process in the 19th century are covered by Day (1986) for the role of the telegraph, and by Rollo Arnold, who provides in Chapter 15 of New Zealand's Burning (1994) a study of the role of the 'own correspondent' (local correspondents) and also of the weekly newspapers. News gathering in more recent times can be read about in John Hardingham's The New Zealand Herald Manual of Journalism (1967).

Harvey's 'Editors and compositors' (1990) notes, from contemporary accounts, some of the day-to-day activities involved in running newspapers in 19th-century New Zealand.

Further research

Despite the considerable number of publications which exist about New Zealand newspapers, particularly for the 19th century, much research is still needed. In addition to the lacunae noted above, more needs to be known about newspapers published in specific regions, and about news-gathering (including the role of the telegraph). More histories of individual newspapers are essential, for example to allow better knowledge of whether New Zealand newspapers differ from colonial papers published in other countries. This list can be refined and extended almost indefinitely.

Many sources are available to further this research. The New Zealand Parliamentary Debates (Hansard) warrant attention: they include, for example, information about postage rates and subsidies for newspapers, about funding of the Māori language newspaper Te Waka Maori, and about government patronage in the form of advertising. Significant archival material is available in libraries: demanding attention in this category are the New Zealand News archives (Turnbull Library), a major source awaiting further investigation and analysis. They include, among much else, detailed business records of the Lyttelton Times Co. Other extant business records of newspapers are noted in Chapter 2. Government publications, such as the AJHR, will reward further study. The registrations of newspapers required under various Acts from 1868, available at National Archives and some High Court registries, are also an untouched source.