A merger that her­alded a new era

The Bulletin - - Opinion - Malcolm Col­less is a former chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Her­ald and Weekly Times and a former di­rec­tor of News Lim­ited. MALCOLM COL­LESS, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of the HWT at the time of the launch of the Her­ald Sun 25 years ago re­calls birth of a new force in new

THE Her­ald Sun cel­e­brated its 25th an­niver­sary last month with all the glitz and glam­our of a Hol­ly­wood block­buster movie re­lease.

Iron­i­cally, the an­nounce­ment of the pa­per’s birth on Oc­to­ber 1990 was far more sub­dued. In fact its preg­nancy had been kept a closely-guarded se­cret. That it re­mained a se­cret dur­ing the months of plan­ning to bring it and the Syd­ney-based Tele­graph-Mir­ror merger into the world was noth­ing short of amaz­ing.

The Her­ald Sun was cre­ated on a pro­mo­tional plat­form that an­nounced the en­try of News Lim­ited, as the com­pany was then known, into the world of the 24-hour news­pa­per. It may be hard for to­day’s younger me­dia gen­er­a­tion to re­alise but 25 years ago on­line news ser­vices did not ex­ist. Nei­ther did the in­ter­net as we know it now.

So the si­mul­ta­ne­ous merg­ing of the af­ter­noon Her­ald with the morn­ing Sun

News-Pic­to­rial news­pa­per in Mel­bourne, and the af­ter­noon

Daily Mir­ror with the morn­ing Tele­graph in Syd­ney, dra­mat­i­cally changed the face of news­pa­per pro­duc­tion and read­er­ship in Aus­tralia’s two ma­jor cities.

While this seis­mic shift proved an ex­am­ple of very for­ward think­ing, it was also brought about by an im­pend­ing fi­nan­cial cri­sis within News Cor­po­ra­tion which was threat­en­ing to bring down Ru­pert Mur­doch’s global me­dia op­er­a­tion.

This cri­sis passed but News Lim­ited had been launched on a path which would re­flect the fu­ture de­vel­op­ment of news­pa­pers around the world.

I grew up as a young jour­nal­ist on The Daily Mir­ror back in the early 1960s, but by the time I came to Mel­bourne in 1988 as the Her­ald and Weekly Times’ new chief ex­ec­u­tive the bells were al­ready tolling the end of af­ter­noon news­pa­pers. Fair­fax had closed the Mir­ror’s af­ter­noon com­peti­tor,

The Sun, in March that year. While the Satur­day edi­tion of the Mel­bourne Her­ald had been closed, HWT was pump­ing mil­lions of dol­lars into the

Her­ald in a des­per­ate bid to keep it afloat largely be­cause it was con­sid­ered a Mel­bourne icon like the AFL grand fi­nal.

It was against this back­ground that News de­cided in

‘ This cri­sis passed but News Lim­ited had been launched on a path which would re­flect the fu­ture de­vel­op­ment of news­pa­pers around the world’

1989 to launch a foray into the largely un­tapped Mel­bourne Sun­day news­pa­per mar­ket. I say un­tapped be­cause at that time The Age and HWT pub­lished a joint Sun­day news­pa­per which was sold through cor­ner stores and petrol sta­tions as newsagents did not open on Sun­days. In fact un­til 1969 it had been il­le­gal to pub­lish news­pa­pers on Sun­days.

Mur­doch de­cided to hit the mar­ket at both ends with a high-qual­ity broad­sheet – The

Sun­day Her­ald, cap­i­tal­is­ing on the Her­ald name, and a Sun­day edi­tion of the tabloid Sun to cater for the broader mar­ket. The re­ac­tion was like pour­ing boil­ing wa­ter on an ants nest.

Mel­bourne had tra­di­tion­ally been a sleepy hol­low on Sun­days. Most shops closed around lunch time on Satur­day so that the pub­lic could go to the foot­ball and did not re­open un­til Monday morn­ing. With ef­fec­tively no newspa- pers to sell, newsagents hap­pily sup­ported this cus­tom and closed on Sun­days. But all that was to change.

It was my role to in­form the Newsagents Fed­er­a­tion that the launch of the Sun­day news­pa­pers would go ahead with or with­out their sup­port.

When it was an­nounced that The Age was launch­ing its own Sun­day broad­sheet to pro­tect its read­er­ship base, the newsagents reluc­tantly came to the party. And as his­tory now shows, Mur­doch’s de­ci­sion to open up the news­pa­per mar­ket in Mel­bourne led to a revo­lu­tion in week­end re­tail trad­ing which be­came a bench­mark across the coun­try. While the broad­sheet Sun

day Age and Sun­day Her­ald got into the trenches to fight for a share of the top end of the Sun­day mar­ket, the tabloid

Sun­day Sun took off unim­peded in the mid-mar­ket.

But in do­ing so it ex­posed the fi­nan­cial pres­sures that were build­ing up around the

Sun­day Her­ald and the in­evitable hap­pened about six months af­ter the Her­ald Sun was cre­ated. The Sun­day Her­ald closed merg­ing with The Sun­day Sun to form the Sun­day Her­ald

Sun, un­der the ed­i­tor­ship of Ian Moore. The clo­sure of the Sun­day

Her­ald which led to more than 120 re­trench­ments, in­clud­ing 70 jour­nal­ists, sparked a bit­ter three day strike, but pub- lish­ing of HWT pa­pers did not cease, thanks to man­age­ment and ed­i­to­rial ex­ec­u­tives un­der the edi­tor-in-chief, Piers Akerman, who were de­ter­mined not to be in­tim­i­dated.

Af­ter be­ing re­luc­tant to be­gin with, the Vic­to­rian La­bor Govern­ment agreed to pro­vide enough po­lice to en­sure that busi­ness at the com­pany’s Flin­ders Street head­quar­ters could con­tinue in the face of a vi­o­lent union block­ade.

That is­sue would prove a turn­ing point in the his­tory of pub­lish­ing in Mel­bourne. HWT now had a strong sev­en­days-a-week masthead with a boom­ing cir­cu­la­tion. While the af­ter­noon edi­tions and the hy­phen­ated News Pic­to­rial faded from the scene, the Her­ald

Sun and its Sun­day coun­ter­part were per­fectly po­si­tioned to han­dle the com­mu­ni­ca­tions revo­lu­tion which was de­scend­ing on the news­pa­per in­dus­try around the world.

And it all started 25 years ago with the merg­ing of the Her

ald and the Sun – a mile­stone event which I am sure will al­ways have a spe­cial place in the hearts and minds of those who helped bring this baby into the pub­lish­ing world.

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