NZ Truth comes full circle 1905-2013

Truth was the first New Zealand newspaper to attempt national distribution and within two years claimed to sell 40,000 copies a week. During its lifetime circulation rose to 240,000 and shrank to 12,000 as a result of its news scoops – both popular and unpopular – and the country’s changing economic and social structures.

By 1926 Truth was the country’s biggest seller with circulation approaching 70,000. It ran an influential business page, motoring section, sports (including the ever popular “Turf tips”) and reviews for film, theatre and literature.

Ref: 1-W1382, Premises of the New Zealand Truth, 1914, Sir George Grey Special Collections
Sales remained buoyant until the Depression - although it still had the largest and most widely distributed circulation in the country.

The price of goods and labour rose dramatically during the late 1930s and Truth went from broadsheet-size to tabloid in order to trim newsprint costs. The new format was a hit and sales increased to 140,000 by 1947.

Weekly sales reached 170,000 in 1953 thanks to Truth’s scoop alleging Commissioner of Police Eric Compton had been “on the take” from bookies whose phones he also allegedly tapped. The paper’s 18-month campaign against Compton resulted in circulation topping 200,000 in April 1955 when Compton took “voluntary retirement”.

Circulation reached a never to be repeated high of 240,000 in 1963 during coverage of the scandal involving British war office minister John Profumo and prostitute Christine Keeler.

However, the 1960s brought new media competition for Truth with the introduction of both television and Sunday newspapers. Sales begin to slide. Talkback radio started in the 1970s, hastening this decline -but Truth’s 1976 scoop about MP Marilyn Waring being a lesbian brought a massive backlash. The newspaper was now out of step with the times. Its pro-Springbok Tour stance during the 1981 rugby tour saw sales plummet further until by the early 1990s it sold fewer that 50,000 copies a week.

After 2000, the internet began to undermine the newspaper industry and in 2007 Truth’s circulation had sunk to a mere 12,000.

Ref: Masthead of N.Z. Truth the National Paper, Papers Past
Papers Past has digitised NZ Truth from 7 July 1906 - 22 December 1930 which are also available to view on the news and newspapers section of Auckland Libraries digital library.

Author: Leanne, Central Auckland Research Centre