British Tabloid Journalism in Australia, 1925-1945

By 1935, Australian tabloid entrepreneurs and bitter rivals Frank Packer and Keith Murdoch were on the edge of a crisis totally distinct from the brewing war in Europe. They were operating some of the largest tabloid consortiums in Australia, based out of Sydney and Melbourne respectively, and they were running out of newsprint – the physical processed paper on which news media is printed. This paper explores the intertwined export to Australia of British tabloid style – inspired by Lord Northcliffe’s Daily Mirror, among other papers – and British newsprint. It argues that, though British tabloid journalism flourished in Australia, it was constrained for decades by structural problems including the physical paper tabloids were published on, and continued to remain reliant on Britain. Packer and Murdoch had each been highly inspired by British tabloid style, characterized by sensational stories, prizes and giveaways, illustrations, and content that was targeted at the less educated. Their firms engaged in an arms race in the interwar period to publish ever more tabloids with ever more content, including free novels and supplementals of color-printed cartoons. This escalation resulted in crisis; all of Australia’s newsprint was imported from Britain, the United States, Canada, or Scandinavia, and the process of importation took weeks. In a moment of timely resonance, there were supply chain issues. The crisis was only heightened by federal restrictions on the purchase of newsprint during the war to save pounds sterling. Mutual suspicion, then wartime exigency, made these ideas impossible, and the crisis of newsprint was not significantly dealt with until the late 1950s when import rules eased and domestic production began in earnest. This paper analyzes the way in which British and Australian newspaper entrepreneurs jockeyed with each other for advantage and profit during the crisis, as well as the ways in which British newsprint manufacturers fought with their American competitors to remain Australia’s lifeline.