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Australian History

On this day (Australia): In 1854, the Melbourne daily newspaper The Age was first published


The Age First Edition

On 17 October 1854, the Melbourne daily newspaper The Age was first published.

The Age is a daily newspaper in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, that has been published since 1854.

Owned and published by Nine Entertainment, The Age primarily serves Victoria, but copies also sell in Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory and border regions of South Australia and southern New South Wales.

It is delivered both in print and digital formats. The newspaper shares some articles with its sister newspaper The Sydney Morning Herald.

The Age is considered a newspaper of record for Australia, and has variously been known for its investigative reporting, with its journalists having won dozens of Walkley Awards, Australia’s most prestigious journalism prize. As of March 2020, The Age had a monthly readership of 5.321 million.

Three Melbourne businessmen, brothers John and Henry Cooke (who had arrived from New Zealand in the 1840s) and Walter Powell founded The Age. The first edition appeared on 17 October 1854.

The venture was not initially a success, and in June 1856 the Cookes sold the paper to Ebenezer Syme, a Scottish-born businessman, and James McEwan, an ironmonger and founder of McEwans & Co, for £2,000 at auction. The first edition under the new owners came out on 17 June 1856.

From its foundation the paper was self-consciously liberal in its politics: “aiming at a wide extension of the rights of free citizenship and a full development of representative institutions”, and supporting “the removal of all restrictions upon freedom of commerce, freedom of religion and — to the utmost extent that is compatible with public morality — upon freedom of personal action”.

Ebenezer Syme was elected to the Victorian Legislative Assembly shortly after buying The Age, and his brother David Syme soon came to dominate the paper, editorially and managerially. When Ebenezer died in 1860 David became editor-in-chief, a position he retained until his death in 1908, although a succession of editors did the day-to-day editorial work.

In 1882 The Age published an eight-part series written by journalist and future physician George E. Morrison, who had sailed, undercover, for the New Hebrides, while posing as crew of the brigantine slave-ship, Lavinia, as it made cargo of Kanakas. By October the series was also being published in The Age’s weekly companion magazine, the Leader.

“A Cruise in a Queensland Slaver. By a Medical Student” was written in a tone of wonder, expressing “only the mildest criticism”; six months later, Morrison “revised his original assessment”, describing details of the schooner’s blackbirding operation, and sharply denouncing the slave trade in Queensland. His articles, letters to the editor, and newspaper’s editorials, led to expanded government intervention.

In 1891, Syme bought out Ebenezer’s heirs and McEwan’s and became sole proprietor. He built up The Age into Victoria’s leading newspaper. In circulation, it soon overtook its rivals The Herald and The Argus, and by 1890 it was selling 100,000 copies a day, making it one of the world’s most successful newspapers.

Under Syme’s control The Age exercised enormous political power in Victoria. It supported liberal politicians such as Graham Berry, George Higinbotham and George Turner, and other leading liberals such as Alfred Deakin and Charles Pearson furthered their careers as The Age journalists.

Syme was originally a free trader, but converted to protectionism through his belief that Victoria needed to develop its manufacturing industries behind tariff barriers. During the 1890s The Age was a leading supporter of Australian federation and of the White Australia policy.

After David Syme’s death, the paper remained in the hands of his three sons, and his eldest son Herbert became general manager until his death in 1939.

David Syme’s will prevented the sale of any equity in the paper during his sons’ lifetimes, an arrangement designed to protect family control, but which had the unintended consequence of starving the paper of investment capital for 40 years.

Under the management of Sir Geoffrey Syme (1908–42), and his editors, Gottlieb Schuler and Harold Campbell, The Age was unable to modernise, and gradually lost market share to The Argus and the tabloid The Sun News-Pictorial, with only its classified advertisement sections keeping the paper profitable.

By the 1940s, the paper’s circulation was lower than it had been in 1900, and its political influence had also declined. Although it remained more liberal than the extremely conservative Argus, it lost much of its distinct political identity.

The historian Sybil Nolan writes: “Accounts of The Age in these years generally suggest that the paper was second-rate, outdated in both its outlook and appearance. Walker described a newspaper which had fallen asleep in the embrace of the Liberal Party; “querulous”, “doddery” and “turgid” are some of the epithets applied by other journalists.

It is inevitably criticised not only for its increasing conservatism, but for its failure to keep pace with innovations in layout and editorial technique so dramatically demonstrated in papers like The Sun News-Pictorial and The Herald.”

In 1942, David Syme’s last surviving son, Oswald, took over the paper, and began to modernise the paper’s appearance and standards of news coverage, removing classified advertisements from the front page and introducing photographs long after other papers had done so.

In 1948, after realising the paper needed outside capital, Oswald persuaded the courts to overturn his father’s will and floated David Syme and Co. as a public company, selling £400,000 worth of shares. This sale enabled a badly needed technical upgrade of the newspaper’s antiquated production machinery, and defeated a takeover attempt by the Fairfax family, publishers of The Sydney Morning Herald.

This new lease on life allowed The Age to recover commercially, and in 1957 it received a great boost when The Argus, after twenty years of financial losses, ceased publication.

In 1972, John Fairfax Holdings bought a majority of David Syme’s shares, and in 1983 bought out all the remaining shares.

On 26 July 2018, Nine Entertainment Co. and Fairfax Media, the parent company of The Age, announced they agreed on terms for a merger between the two companies to become Australia’s largest media company. Nine shareholders will own 51.1 per cent of the combined entity, and Fairfax shareholders will own 48.9 per cent.

In September 2020, it was announced that The Age’s former Washington correspondent Gay Alcorn would be appointed editor of The Age, the first woman to hold the position in the paper’s history.

Source: Wikipedia

About Craig Hill

Teacher and Writer. Writing has been cited in New York Times, BBC, Fox News, Aljazeera, Philippines Star, South China Morning Post, National Interest, news.com.au, Wikipedia and others.

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