Story: Newspapers

Page 4. Competition and challenges, 1940–2000

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Decline in numbers of papers

Increasing competition from radio as a medium for news, entertainment and advertising reduced the number of New Zealand newspapers in the mid-20th century. By 1940 each of the four main centres had just one morning and one evening daily paper. The Second World War caused most papers to lose skilled staff, and made newsprint (which was then imported) much harder to obtain. Newspaper ownership was steadily consolidated in the hands of a small number of companies. New Zealand began producing its own newsprint from wood pulp in 1955.


In the post-war years the daily paper remained a vital feature of everyday life. Morning papers were distributed by adults, often from delivery vehicles along with the morning milk and bread, but metropolitan evening papers were hawked to homeward-bound commuters by schoolboys. In Wellington the shrill cry of ‘Eee-vening Po-ost!’ formed a distinctive note in the city’s street sounds.

World-class reporters

The co-operatively owned United Press Association, formed in 1879 to share news content between the major papers, became the New Zealand Press Association in 1942. Reporters now used the telephone, radio and airmail to gather and file their stories. Formal journalism training began in the 1960s and some New Zealand journalists acquired international reputations. Invercargill-born Peter Arnett made his name as a war correspondent in Vietnam in the 1960s, and reported the 1990s Gulf War for the world’s major news organisations.

Speeding up the presses

Printing presses that used giant rolls, rather than sheets, of newsprint enabled newspapers to be produced far more quickly. In place of lead type, text and photos were transferred to the paper using a photographic process called offset printing. Colour photos appeared in newspapers from about 1990. Typesetting was computerised from the 1970s, and journalists began to type their stories directly onto computers, and to supply them electronically to their editors and layout staff.


Newsprint, the paper used for newspaper printing, was imported to New Zealand until 1955. In that year the Tasman mill in Kawerau began production, using wood pulp from state pine forests. It eventually exported to Australia, Asia and elsewhere, and in the mid-1970s was briefly the largest newsprint mill in the world. However, in 2012 the Tasman mill’s production was halved as a result of declining newspaper sales and income.

Competition from other media

These advances vastly improved the appearance and content of New Zealand newspapers, but failed to resist the rise in competition from other mass media, especially television. Evening dailies disappeared as readers chose to listen to the radio and watch television in their homes instead. Changing demographics and economic circumstances contributed to the demise of long-running provincial papers such as the Manawatu Herald, which closed in 1997.

Quality issues

The weekly papers previously produced by the main dailies for their rural readers were replaced by bulky weekend editions of the daily paper. These editions eventually had magazine supplements inserted, mainly to provide better-quality paper for the colour advertising. Many readers, however, believed that the content of their local newspaper had declined in quality as a result of a loss in income and staff. Fewer journalists were employed to deliver more stories, and reporters were often required to take their own photos, as in-house photographers and other staff were laid off to reduce overheads. By 1999 the number of daily newspapers in New Zealand had declined to 29.

Community newspapers

Advertising traditionally provided around 70% of a newspaper’s income. As reader numbers fell, free community papers appeared, with 100% of their income made up by advertising.

How to cite this page:

Mark Derby, 'Newspapers - Competition and challenges, 1940–2000', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 21 February 2024)

Story by Mark Derby, published 22 Oct 2014