Keeping a promise: The Australian turns 50

As The Australian celebrates its 50th anniversary, editor-in-chief CHRIS MITCHELL explains how the paper has fulfilled a promise it made to the people of Australia in its first edition.

Keeping a promise: The Australian turns 50Editor-in-chief of The Australian Chris Mitchell (centre) with The Weekend Australian editor Michelle Gunn and The Austraian editor Clive Mathieson after the paper won the PANPA for Newspaper of the Year in 2012. Photo: James Croucher, News Corp Australia

When The Australian published its first edition on, July 15, 1964 it gave an undertaking that it would deliver independent views on matters that shaped Australia’s future.

In its first editorial it stated: “The paper is tied to no party, to no state, and has no chains of any kind. Its guide is faith in Australia and the country’s future.

“It will be our duty to inform Australians everywhere of what is really happening in their country; of what is really happening in the rest of the world; and how this affects our prosperity, our prospects, our national conscience and our public image.” It is a promise that has been fulfilled in a number of ways.

The cultivation of an authoritative voice in setting the “modern” agenda

From the beginning, the paper has identified those issues significant to a national readership — free of narrow city or state-based interests – and the emergence of what is regarded as modern Australia. Among these, from the earliest editions: federal politics, education, health, technology (a dedicated computers section in the first week of publication), aviation, northern development, the arts, censorship and freedom of the press, modernisation of the economy.

In shaping the modern agenda, The Australian adopted a very modern design, using typography and photography in a creative way to reflect the weight of the news. Strong design was particularly evident in features sections of the earliest editions, which to this day retain boldness and elegance.

This understanding of the national agenda, and the masthead’s role, has flowed from print into digital – with a clear belief that, whatever the platform, the breaking of news, and opinion and analysis from informed sources are what our readers demand.

The importance of business and support for it

Again, from the earliest days the paper has had a dedicated interest in, and support for, the business community. A traditionally later deadline has given it an edge over rivals in breaking business news, especially from overseas.

A dedicated business section was broken out as a separate book on June 17, 1980. With the Financial Australian masthead, now called Business, it was conceived as a paper within the paper – “a paper that cares about business and the business community,” it promised on its first day. Central to the success of business and national prosperity has been the modernisation of the Australian economy, particularly through reforms of the Hawke-Keating and Howard years. The Australian’s expert writers in this area have ensured that it has set the agenda.

Reporting on the fall of communism

One of The Australian’s Day 1 pledges was strong foreign reporting. This commitment was never filled better than in the coverage of the disintegration of the Soviet bloc and the Fall of the Wall in the late 1980s. Reports by correspondents such as Nicolas Rothwell are marked by their depth of understanding and mastery of language.

The first front page of The Australian on July 15, 1964

The first front page of The Australian on July 15, 1964

An ongoing commitment to the improvement of the lives of indigenous Australians

In the first months of publication the paper ran reports on the Aboriginal death rate. From early 1965, it was publishing features based on trips to remote Australia, exposing the plight of Aborigines (“A black ghetto in a red desert: Aborigines condemned to squalor”, Jan 4, 1965). The paper has devoted considerable resources to identifying problems and proposing solutions, through early land rights days, Mabo and “the intervention”. The writings of reporters such as Nicolas Rothwell, Rosemary Neill, Dan Koch and columnist Noel Pearson have been crucial in setting the agenda.

An understanding of the importance of education

Again, from the paper’s earliest days, school and higher education has received key coverage. Regular news reports and features on the quality of teaching, the role of universities and the role of research were consolidated in a Higher Education section, which started on February 13, 1980. Of interest to the specialist and general reader, this section was historically part of strategic thinking about the weekday paper – with specialist strengths built into separate days ( IT Tuesdays, higher education Wednesdays, aviation/law Fridays).

By Chris Mitchell

Leave a comment