A merger that heralded a new era
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.