William Arthur Whitlock was born at Nelson on 2 July 1891, the son of William Charles Whitlock and his wife, Hobart-born Mary Saul Alexander. His father had come to New Zealand from England to take up farming, but instead became a pioneer newspaper proprietor. Around 1899 the family moved to Taranaki, where young William was educated at the Stratford primary and secondary schools. He began his working life as a clerk in the Stratford town clerk’s office, but his brief career in local government ended in 1907 when his father moved to Hastings to take over the Hastings Standard , later renamed the Hawke’s Bay Tribune. The following year Whitlock became the paper’s accountant, and by 1912 he was its secretary–manager. On 12 January 1916, in Hastings, he married elocution teacher Gertrude Gwenyth Beryl Gallien; they were to have two sons and a daughter. In December that year he enlisted for war service. He arrived in France in October 1918 and fought with the 3rd New Zealand (Rifles) Brigade, losing two fingers on his left hand at Le Quesnoy in early November.
On his return to New Zealand in 1919 Whitlock rejoined the Tribune as a sub-editor. His subsequent career in journalism and newspaper management was to last nearly 60 years. Daily journalism was his deep and abiding love, and his insistence on accurate, vigorous reporting and analysis, together with his conservative and independent attitudes, earned him the respect of journalists and newspaper proprietors throughout the country.
In 1922, in search of wider experience, Whitlock joined the staff of the Christchurch Sun as a sub-editor. In 1927 he was selected as one of a team of talented journalists commissioned to establish the Auckland Sun. He remained in Auckland as the Sun ’s chief sub-editor for the next three years, then served a term as chief sub-editor of the Dominion in Wellington. In 1933 he returned to Hastings to succeed his father as managing director and editor of the Tribune. Under his direction the Tribune and Napier’s Hawke’s Bay Herald merged in 1937 to establish Hawke’s Bay Newspapers Limited, with the Hawke’s Bay Herald-Tribune as an evening daily.
Above all Whitlock was a practical newspaperman, alert to the changing needs and tastes of his community and aware at all times of new technology in newspaper production. He was also deeply conscious of the responsibilities of a free press and of journalistic ethics and rights. His lively interest in international affairs was reflected in his editorials, and particularly in his ability to interpret the impact of overseas events on New Zealand. This made him greatly in demand as a speaker on international and current affairs.
His command of English and his skill in its use were widely recognised. He was an active member of the English-Speaking Union of New Zealand and regarded the fourth estate, and in particular his own newspaper, as an unofficial guardian of the English language. For a number of years he employed the poet Louis Johnson as a sub-editor and feature writer for the Herald-Tribune. Whitlock served for 10 years as chairman of the provincial section of the Newspaper Proprietors’ Association of New Zealand and was also a director of the New Zealand Press Association. During the Second World War, at the invitation of the British government, he led a party of New Zealand press executives to visit the war fronts and witness first hand Britain’s war effort.
Whitlock was a prominent figure in the Hawke’s Bay Employers’ Association and the Wellington Regional Employers’ Association, and was president of the New Zealand Employers’ Federation from 1959 to 1961. In 1953 and 1959 he was a delegate to International Labour Organisation conferences in Geneva. He also maintained an active interest in community affairs: as a member of the Rotary Club of Hastings and in 1950–51 as Rotary’s district governor; as the founding chairman of directors of Leopard Brewery Limited in 1956–57; and as a sinking-fund commissioner for the Hawke’s Bay Electric Power Board. Another interest was aviation, and he was actively involved with the early development of the Hawke’s Bay and East Coast Aero Club, serving as club president in 1946 and later patron.
Gertude Whitlock died in 1949, and on 8 May 1951, in Hastings, William married Nancy Lilian Harvey (née Harding). Whitlock’s lifetime contribution to the newspaper industry and to community affairs was recognised in 1961 when he was appointed a CBE. In 1973 he was made a life member of the Newspaper Publishers’ Association of New Zealand, the first provincial newspaperman so honoured. He died in Hastings on 2 January 1977, survived by Nancy and the three children of his first marriage.