The small afternoon newspaper that Murdoch started with was the Adelaide News which is the property he inherited from his father.
Murdoch joined the newspaper and put his energy learning the trade by being involved in virtually every aspect of the newspaper from advertising rates to the actual production and printing process as well as editorial. But more significantly it turned out to be the battle ground for his first real newspaper battle and no doubt played a big role in shaping the fighter in Murdoch that was to be seen in later years fighting for the control of newspaper properties against great odds.
It was not an easy one for the man who was quickly nicknamed “the boy publisher” having arrived at the newspaper to take over his inheritance at the tender age of only 22. The tiny newspaper was under serious threat from its’ much bigger competitor, the Adelaide Advertiser. Indeed the bigger paper which was part of a large group was determined to take over the tiny annoying competitor and Rupert’s mother had already received an offer to sell off the newspaper to them but young Rupert could hear nothing of it. He was rather emotional about the whole thing seeing it as an attempt to discredit the memory of his father who had only died so recently.
But even at that tender age and with all his inexperience Murdoch injected a number of interesting ideas and was a key member of the team that survived that first battle. I use the word survive because the nasty circulation war that ensued cost both newspapers a lot but considering that the News had such limited resources in comparison, it was a very commendable show.
Murdoch did not quite destroy the competition completely but a compromise was reached which eased the pressure and saw the two arch enemies own one Sunday newspaper together where they shared the revenues on a 50/50 basis.
Another interesting aspect that came out of this first newspaper project for Murdoch was his propensity for cost cutting. The Adelaide News already had a very lean staff and there are those who felt that it would have done well with more staff. Murdoch went in the opposite direction and still constantly looked for ways to cut down on costs even further.
The other important development is that the young Murdoch started developing a relationship with a bank which was to prove to be critical to his newspaper career. He found the National Bank of Australia as the bankers of the Adelaide News, but they were also bankers to their competitors, The Advertiser. Murdoch switched bankers to the Commonwealth Bank and developed such a close working relationship that he was able to get credit at very short notice for many years as he relentlessly built his media empire.
As the 1950s were coming to a close the Adelaide News was making enough money for Murdoch to consider the first acquisitions, which he did against the wishes of some on the board who were much more cautious. Still he won approval to acquire a weekly woman’s magazine called New Idea published in Melbourne and his second newspaper The Sunday Times published in Perth, Western Australia. To acquire the newspaper he put up his first newspaper as security, a very risky financial move because if his new acquisition had gone wrong, he would have lost everything. Not only that, Perth is 1,400 miles (not kilometers) away from Adelaide and yet Murdoch wanted a hands on approach to enable him turn around his second newspaper even as he kept a close eye on his first newspaper. Every Friday he would fly down to supervise his Sunday newspaper and his ruthless reputation now started to take shape. For instance his Sunday Times staff would work on the paper but the minute Murdoch would arrive straight from his flight he would take a look at the front page and tear it to shreds. Thus work would start all over again on the front page. The newspaper became much more sensational and circulation rose. Indeed many observers are of the opinion that it was in Perth that Murdoch journalism was truly born.
The hallmark of Murdoch journalism and what built his empire may be difficult for many to accept. It was the exaggerated story filled with invented quotes. Boring news service copy was completely re-written into lavishly sensationalized articles. The signature would be the blood-curdling headline. Sample one of Murdoch’s best selling headlines in Perth; LEPER RAPES VIRGIN GIVES BIRTH TO MONSTER BABY.
It was also in Perth that Murdoch developed his aggressive newspaper promoting skills.
The quick success of the Sunday Times sparred him on and thus started the rapid expansion and acquisition of other newspaper properties.
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