Broadsheets are back: The Sydney Morning Herald

History: Australia's longest-running newspaper, founded in 1831

The Sydney Morning Herald is not Australia's first newspaper1, but it is the longest-running. Founded in 1831, the Sydney Herald was created by recent immigrants William McGarvie, Alfred Stephens and Frederick Stokes and published weekly. The trio, former writers for Australia's first newspaper, the Sydney Gazette, named the paper after Scotland's Glasgow Herald.

The 4-page paper cost 7d, with a circulation of just 750 copies printed out of Redman's Court, near George Street. Only Sydney's upper classes had high enough literacy levels and disposable income to read the newspaper regularly, and it appealed to the ordered society that pervaded the coastal colony.

The Sydney Herald rose in popularity and circulation. By May 1832 it was able to publish bi-weekly, in July 1838, tri-weekly and on 1 October 1840, it became a daily newspaper. Later that year it expanded further by incorporating the Colonist.

In 1841, the paper was sold to its most famous owners, John Fairfax and Charles Kemp for £10,000. Fairfax was an English newspaper publisher when he was successfully sued for libel over a letter that he printed in his publication, the Leamington Spa Sketch Book, which bankrupted his fortune. Fairfax fled to Australia in 1838 to seek a new life, teaming up with Charles Kemp to purchase the Sydney Herald.

Fairfax took the lead with the newspaper, renaming it to the Sydney Morning Herald in 1842 and buying out Charles Kemp's share in 1843. Once Fairfax gained control of the newspaper, it remained in his family's company for 149 years. The paper's parent company, John Fairfax Limited, became a public company in 1956 to raise capital for its expansion.

The paper only left the Fairfax family's direct control when bankruptcy forced the corporation into public hands. Faced with debts of AUD $1.7 billion, liquidators were called in to handle the company's assets. Said the Herald's editors, "It has taken Warwick Geoffrey Oswald Fairfax three years and three days to blow a family inheritance worth $500 million." Attempts by the Fairfax family and entrepreneur Conrad Black to re-privatise the newspaper proved unsuccessful, and it was re-listed on the stock exchange in 1992.

The Sydney Morning Herald closely followed technological changes in newsprint. In 1853, it became the first Australian newspaper printed with steam. It maintained a weekly edition of the Herald that was distributed to regional areas, the Sydney Mail, from 1860 to 1938. By 1899, the Herald was carrying enough news to produce an evening edition. The newspaper introduced typewriters in 1915 and ordered its first computer system in 1975.

Layout and design: A broadsheet newspaper that uses modern design styles

The Sydney Morning Herald is a broadsheet newspaper. The paper is printed on A1 sheets of paper, folded in half to create an A2 page. The paper is trimmed at the edges, making the pages slightly smaller. When the paper is sold and distributed, it is folded again to create a front sheet roughly A3 in size, which looks like this:

      |--       width       --|
          412 mm / 16.22 in.

       -----------------------    ---
     -| Sydney Morning Herald |    |
    | |                       |    
    | | +---+ Scientists ---- |  height
    | | |   | find thing ---- |  295mm / 11.61 in.  
    | | |   | that does  ---- |    
    | | +---+ stuff ---- ---- |    |
     \| - ---- ---- ---- ---- |    |
       -----------------------    ---

The masthead is written in a Blackletter font (graphically, it's similar to the New York Times). The headline and body typeface is Miller; the body font is Roman in 9.5 point. Text columns are 44mm across and 4mm apart, fitting eight columns per page. These produce columns that fit approximately 17 words per column centimetre or 35 words per column inch. Paragraphs have a 3mm indent, starting at the second paragraph. At least half of the pages are printed in full CMYK colour, with the rest in greyscale.

The main body of the paper is usually 24 pages long, broken into sections in the following order:

  • Front page news
  • News (local, national and world)
  • Features
  • Opinion (ie editorials) and letters
  • Comment (ie regular and guest columnists)
  • Daily features
  • Classifieds and advertisements
  • Weather
  • Entertainment (including comics, crosswords and the day's free-to-air television programme)
  • 'Stay in Touch', a recent addition to the paper, which includes a "Ten Minute Herald" summary of the day's news, quotes from editorials around the world, cynical commentary about entertainment and celebrities under the heading of "Spike", humourous rantings by readers under the heading "Heckler" and short observations by readers in "Column 8".

Every day's edition also includes additional lift-outs and weekly features.

Monday: "Sports" and "The Guide", a free-to-air television and radio programme guide (liftout).

Tuesday: "Insight" in-depth reports, "Good Living" food and fashion guide (liftout) and "Metropolitan", an arts and culture guide.

Wednesday: "Money" investment and portfolio guide, "Metropolitan" arts and culture guide, and "Radar", a guide for young businesspeople.

Thursday: "Domain" home and property guide (liftout) and "Health & Science" (liftout).

Friday: "Drive" motors and vehicles (liftout) and "Metro" events and movie guide (liftout)

Weekend: "News Review" in-depth coverage of the current week's events, "Good Weekend" lifestyle guide, "MyCareer" employment and jobs guide, "Icon" internet and technology guide, "Spectrum" books and arts guide and "Travel" (all liftouts). The Weekend SMH contains so many liftouts that it is distributed in two parts, weighing approximately 1kg (or 2.2 lbs) in total.

Traditional broadsheet newspaper styles were brought to Australia from Britain, which saw the newspaper cover devoted to classified advertising and news contained within the covers. Most publications moved away from this model in an attempt to produce eye-catching covers, but the Sydney Morning Herald maintained its stance that "serious newspapers didn't need to highlight their news or indulge in eye-catching headlines to attract casual sales."

Said the Herald's website, "The change came only after substantial debate. Some felt it would tarnish a newspaper's image to publish news ahead of public and advertising notices created by the community." At the time, the Herald responded that there was "an urgent public demand in these critical days for ... more news." A shortage of newsprint and "a deep sense of responsibility" also led the proprietors to reduce advertisements to make room for news." However, rationed resources during wartime forced the newspaper to accept a redesign, and front page news arrived at the Herald on 15 April, 19442.

The Herald followed another British tradition of producing a primarily text-based newspaper. Line-based drawings were introduced in the 1940s and used to illustrate articles only in exceptional circumstances, such as the inauguration of the Commonwealth of Australia in January 1901 and the death of Queen Victoria. The first photographic image appeared in the Herald on 21 August, 1908, illustrating the arrival of a visiting United States Navy squadron in Sydney.

Distribution and delivery: Coming to a newsagency near you (if you live in greater metropolitan Sydney)

The Herald has a circulation of 222,000, slightly less than its rival The Daily Telegraph3. Its price is $1.20 on weekdays and $2.20 on weekends.

The Herald is distributed and sold at newsagencies, supermarkets, and retail stores in the Sydney basin. As one of Australia's leading newspapers, it is available in larger newsagencies in Australia's major cities and around the world.

The first edition of the paper is sent electronically to the Herald's printers at 9pm, and begins printing at 10pm. This first edition is delivered interstate and to regional centres around New South Wales. After a review by the chief sub and the night editor, the paper is printed a second time at 11pm and distributed across outer Sydney. A third print run takes place at 12am, and this is distributed around inner metropolitan Sydney.

The staggered print run is designed to create a simultaneous delivery at approximately 4am. One of the first places to receive the newly-printed newspapers is Taylor Square on Oxford Street, Darlinghurst, which is a reliable place to pick up the newspaper quickly. This can be important if you're waiting for something to be published. On the night before university entrance results and offers are published, for example, crowds of high school students gather at Taylor Square to pick up early copies of the paper.

The Herald is also available online, at . Registration for the online version is free. The online version of the Herald is first updated at midnight Australian Eastern Standard Time, and throughout the day, it is updated with breaking news stories that may appear in the next day's print version of the paper. The Online Editor has the choice to accept or reject developing stories for online publication.

Editorial style: After 110 years of conservatism, now a left-leaning newspaper

Alan Revell is the Commercial Director of Herald Publications, a position which includes editor-in-chief at the Sydney Morning Herald.

Once a bastion of conservatism, the Herald is a centrist, and occasionally small-l liberal newspaper.

The conservative Fairfax family brought up the paper in the same way that it raised its children: with a firm belief in traditional values and a sense of what is "right and proper". The Herald strongly supported the status quo, and held staunchly reactionary views on politics, society and economics. This led to the SMH's nickname "Granny", which it first acquired in 1851 in the Legislative Council.

During the 1943 Federal election it cautiously advocated a vote for “the best candidate”, irrespective of party. In 1961 it was bolder, for the first time urging a vote for the Labor Party. However, its conservatism returned during the Gough Whitlam years. After Whitlam's dismissal by the Governor General, the Herald ran a front-page editorial on the issue, commenting, "In the past three years, we have suffered, in the name of reform, a far ranging assault on our traditional way of life and its virtues of individualism and independence."

In recent years the Herald's lifestyle sections have advocated a less conservative way of life. The paper's forthright feature articles openly discuss sex, same-sex relationships, gender reassignment, abortion and extra-marital affairs. Its features pages have run articles on fashions in pubic hair styling and Kylie Minogue's bottom-shaping exercise regime.

In fact, the Herald is so forthright and accepting in its reports of modern society that it has been criticised for being targeted at and focused on residents of Sydney's wealthy inner west and eastern suburbs. Many of its lifestyle sections deal almost exclusively with suburbs like Paddington, Darlinghurst, Newtown, Bondi, Rose Bay and Potts Point - comfortable, middle- to upper-class areas with upwardly-mobile, lifestyle-centric residents. An excellent example is its coverage of Sydney's food scene. In Sydney, cuisine is now entertainment as much as it is nourishment, something which is particularly true for Sydney's middle-class. The Herald's loving reviews of Sydney's high-class restaurants appeal directly to a market with disposable income. Regionalism isn't limited to the Herald, though; other Sydney newspapers appeal to the conservative western suburbs and northern regions.

The Herald is one of the few newspapers around the world to adhere to a publicly-stated code of ethics, which has been in place since the paper's inception. It begins,

Our editorial management shall be conducted upon principles of candour, honesty and honour. We have no wish to mislead; no interest to gratify by unsparing abuse - or indiscriminate approbation.

The code goes on to support honesty, impartiality, fairness and independence. The code denounces cheque-book journalism and states that "no payment shall be proffered to sources for interviews or access." It also promises to make known any financial or personal conflict of interest that may affect its staff. The full text of the Code of Ethics can be read online at

Columnists: From the anarchistic left to the fundamentalist right, the Herald has something for everyone

The paper's regular columnists include social conservative Miranda Devine, who was poached from The Daily Telegraph in an attempt to draw their readers across. Similarly, economic conservative Padraic Pearse McGuinness (also published as "Paddy" or "PP" McGuinness) takes a strong stance against the left. Ms Devine and Mr Guinness are forthright, unafraid right-wing commentators who give the paper balance and conservatism.

The paper also hosts a stable of high-profile political commentators such as Paul Sheehan, Alan Ramsey, Mike Carlton, Richard Ackland and Robert Manne. Feminist author Germaine Greer writes frequently for the paper.

Margo Kingston is in an interesting position as one of the newspaper's columnists. Ms Kingston is a left-wing, anti-Iraq War, pro-environment, pro-Aboriginal reconciliation writer, who appeals to the paper's more socialist readers. Her plethora of provocative comments includes, "The fundamentalist Zionist lobby controls politics and the media in the US and Australia."

Ms Kingston was fired from the Herald by then-boss Robert Whitehead for vocally supporting a report which accused rival newspaper The Daily Telegraph of racism in its coverage of a Sydney gang rape trial. The Herald didn't support the report and instructed Ms Kingston to back off, but she pressed ahead anyway, saying that she represented her own views; at which point, she was fired. Curiously, however, Ms Kingston had a rock-solid three-year contract to provide an online "web diary" for the newspaper, containing daily editorials. She will remain with the newspaper until the contract expires, being one of the only journalists to write almost exclusively for the web version of the paper.

The paper's regular cartoonists include Michael Leunig, who produces nostalgic pieces of social commentary, and Alan Moir, who creates scathing reviews of current affairs and politics.

Vital statistics

First printed: 1831
Printed in: Sydney, Australia
Circulation: 222,000
Editor-in-chief: Alan Revell
Publisher: John Fairfax Publications Pty Ltd
Cost: $1.20 on weekdays, $2.20 on weekends

1 Australia's first newspaper was the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser, which was first published on 5 March 1803 by George Howe, a transported convict and government printer.

2 The West Australian was the last major Australian newspaper to retain the broadsheet tradition of classified advertisements on the covers, abandoning the practice in December 1949. London's Times kept the practice until 1966.

3 As of June 2004, The Daily Telegraph's circulation was 409,139, making it the highest-circulating newspaper in New South Wales.

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