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By David Hastings

As Auckland merges to create a supercity, the Herald looks back at how Auckland has changed over the years. Click here to view the full series.

Wilson and Horton's first Queen Street office. File photo / NZ Herald
Wilson and Horton's first Queen Street office. File photo / NZ Herald

Early Auckland was a newspaper town. New titles sprouted like mushrooms in autumn rain and most of them disappeared just as quickly.

The pattern was set by the first New Zealand Herald and Auckland Gazette that lasted just short of a year, July 1841 to April 1842. From that year until the closure of the Evening Bell in 1885 there were numerous attempts to found general interest newspapers in Auckland.

Some of the proprietors and editors showed a remarkable ability
to innovate in order to keep their publications going. The antigovernment Auckland Times, for instance, was printed on a press improvised from a laundry mangle for a couple of years from 1842.

It was an impressive performance under difficult circumstances, but most papers did not last anywhere near as long. More typical was the grandiosely titled Universe which was started by a surgeon and a chemist. They knew just enough about newspapers to start one but, like so many of their contemporaries, underestimated what it took to keep one going. Their Universe collapsed after just one issue.

Henry Brett - star reporter for the Southern Cross and the Herald before he became proprietor of the Auckland Star - decided in 1865 that the town was not big enough for more than two papers at a time.

Between the mid-1840s and the mid-1860s the two papers that survived were the Southern Cross and the New Zealander. They conducted a 20-year newspaper war in which they made no attempt to conceal their mutual distaste.

The Cross called the New Zealander "a superannuated slavey" of the government and accused it of being destitute of integrity
and veracity, lacking in manhood and characterised by brazen effrontery.
According to the New Zealander, the Cross was a mendacious
paper which indulged in abuse. Its own readers would not allow the Cross into their houses for fear of corrupting their sons and daughters.

The war ended when the New Zealander succumbed in 1866 but it wasn't the insults that did it. The accepted explanation at the time, which has been preserved in the history books, is that the New Zealander died because it had a pro-Maori policy when this was considered unacceptable to its Pakeha readership.

A better explanation, however, is that the paper did not have enough of the lifeblood of journalism - news.

From 1862, when the Southern Cross became a daily under the editorship of Robert J. Creighton, it beat the New Zealander to all the big stories as tensions between Maori and Pakeha flared into war over Waitara and the invasion of the Waikato. It also beat the New Zealander to the news that came by sea.

In those days ships were the conduit of all foreign news. They brought newspapers which were eagerly sought by local journalists to cut, paste, summarise and reprint for Auckland readers.

In the 1850s shipborne news from Britain could take three or four months to reach Auckland, often by indirect routes. In one instance, stories that originated in the News of the World took 136 days to meander their way from London to Auckland via Cape Town and Sydney. Items were cut, pasted and reprinted by papers in each port, which were, in turn, sent on to the next place for the same treatment.

Transmission of the news may have been slow but once a ship arrived in Auckland there was a flurry of energy from the Cross and the New Zealander as they raced each other to get the old newspapers and bring out extra editions that would hit the streets in the afternoon.

Although the Cross's victory over the New Zealander was comprehensive, it came at too great a cost. Creighton's brilliance as a
journalist was exceeded only by his ineptitude as a businessman. Even as its rival failed, the Cross was drowning in a sea of debt. In 1876 it was merged with the New Zealand Herald.

The failure of the New Zealander and the decline of the
Cross came during one of the most competitive periods in
Auckland's newspaper history. Between 1863 and 1875 there were ten attempts to found new papers. But Brett's dictum held true - only two of them survived.

One was the Herald which had been founded by W.C. Wilson after he broke away from the New Zealander in 1863. The other was Brett's Evening Star, later renamed the Auckland Star.
The dominance of these two lasted for more than 120 years and was seriously challenged only twice, both times by newspapers called the Sun, one of which appeared briefly in the 1920s and the other in the 1980s.

The papers steadily grew in size and circulation. Most of the early papers were based on a standard four-page format which could be extended to 10 or even 12 at times.

In the late 1860s the Cross was printing 1750 copies a day and the Herald 1250, minuscule numbers by today's standards. In the 1880s Brett's Star had 10,000 and in the early 21st century the Herald had more than 200,000.

But perhaps the most striking feature of change was the increased pace of the news. A story that might have taken three months to reach Auckland from London in the 1850s would take two days in the late 1870s, thanks to the telegraph. And, with the advent of computer technology, it can take a matter of moments in the 21st century.

The acceleration of transmission speed was matched by the acceleration of newspaper production technology too. In the 1880s Alfred Horton at the Herald introduced the first rotary press in the country which meant bigger papers could be produced more quickly than with an old flat-bed press.

This was followed by the advent of the linotype machine in the 1890s, the last great innovation in printing before computers. It replaced the hand-setting of type and, again, was quicker and more precise than the old methods.

But linotypes, in turn, had to give way to the greater speed of computers. A good measure of how much faster the news became is a comparison of coverage in 1863 from the Battle of Gettysburg - the key engagement of the American Civil War - and the 9/11 attacks on America in 2001.

It took nearly three months for the former story to reach these
shores and when it did, the first reports were brief and sketchy.
News of the latter story broke about one o'clock in the morning and the Herald came out with the first of a series of comprehensive special editions in under two hours.

David Hastings is a deputy editor of the Herald.

- NZ Herald

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