The oldest newspaper in one of the oldest places on earth

The oldest newspaper on one of the oldest islands in the world, that is what the Whanganui Chronicle is, and, as a community newspaper, it is unique in New Zealand.

New Zealand ranks 13 on the World Press Freedom Index website. In 2016, it ranked 5th overall, but dropped no less than eight places after the passing of the Official Information Act. According to Reporters Without Borders the act “obstructs the work of journalists allowing government agencies a long period of time to respond to information requests and even makes journalists pay several hundred dollars for the information.”

The Whanganui Chronicle is one of thirteen regional newspapers in New Zealand owned by the New Zealand Herald, one of the largest newspapers in the country.

The Chronicle is published daily as it has been since 1871, according to the publications website, and it is the oldest newspaper in Australasia, having celebrated its 150th anniversary in September 2006.
The area where the paper is currently located includes the town of Whanganui, which was originally settled by the natives of New Zealand named the Maori. White settlers first arrived in the area Jan. 14, 1831, and by 1856 a settler named Henry Stokes started the newspaper originally named the Whanganui Chronicle and Rangitikei Messenger in September 1856.

The first copies of the newspaper were printed out on a printing press constructed of “maire wood and iron,” according the publication’s website.

This publication did have competition for a short while when the Whanganui Herald was created by John Ballace who would eventually become the Prime Minister in New Zealand. The Herald continued publication until it was closed in 1986, and it is now a community newspaper named the Whanganui Midweek, printed and distributed by the Whanganui Chronicle.

According to its website, “The Whanganui Chronicle is one of the most successful and vibrant regional dailies in Australasia having won 16 PANPA (Pacific Area Newspaper Publisher’s Association) awards since 2000.”

According to the publication’s website the Whanganui Chronicle has a weekly print readership of around 40,000 and its readers “are in a strong financial position” who tend to own their own home. A significant portion of its reader base are “main household shoppers,” which reflects a female skew in readership.

A print edition of the newspaper is available daily in the region, and there is also an online digital edition available for $10 a month. This paywall for the digital edition is interesting because many of the latest stories are available to read for free on the publication’s website.

For the most part the publication covers local news specific to the Whanganui region like the article written on Monday, May 1, 2017 titled “‘Spray and pray’ farming practice condemned.” It is also apparent by looking at the publication’s local news page on the website that they cover a wide variety of news from “good news” stories about local events to local crimes and accidents like the article, “Robbery at Liffiton St McDonalds.”

An example of a breaking news story covered by the paper occurred earlier this year when the Chronicle published an online story about a teenager who broke his neck during a biking accident. The first story was published at 3 p.m. on Monday, March 27, 2017, a week after the incident occurred.

The Whanganui Chronicle as well as other regional and national papers continued to post follow up stories concerning Cooper’s serious condition as the accident had left him with a broken neck, and in one story even added a hyperlink to a GoFundMe style page set up by his family to help pay for his medical bills.

Attempts to contact the newspaper and ask about their protocol considering the release of victim names and the relationship the paper has with the community members involved went unanswered.

The Whanganui Chronicle has a social media presence in the form of a Facebook page, which, as of Monday, May 1, 2017, has 13,227 likes. The page is mainly used to share links to online stories featured on the publication’s main website and each post on the Facebook page generally gets around 15 to 20 reactions from the page’s followers. Research into further social media accounts run by the publication did not turn up a Twitter account.

For being the oldest newspaper in Australasia, the Whanganui Chronicle is a strong community-based publication that covers a wide variety of stories from the heart-warming to the serious. With a strong social media presence and the option of a digital edition of the newspaper as well as a print edition means that the paper will probably last another 150 years.

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