Ghost of caution haunts House of Dunn: The rise and fall of a Queensland newspaper dynasty (1930-1989)

Kirkpatrick, Rod (1995). Ghost of caution haunts House of Dunn: The rise and fall of a Queensland newspaper dynasty (1930-1989) PhD Thesis, School of History, Philosophy, Religion, and Classics, The University of Queensland.

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Author Kirkpatrick, Rod
Thesis Title Ghost of caution haunts House of Dunn: The rise and fall of a Queensland newspaper dynasty (1930-1989)
School, Centre or Institute School of History, Philosophy, Religion, and Classics
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 1995
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Total pages 485
Language eng
Subjects 210303 Australian History (excl. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander History)
400100 Journalism, Communication and Media
430112 Biography
Formatted abstract This is a study of a newspaper species that is almost extinct: the family-run country daily newspaper. It is an account of many of the conditions under which the regional dailies that serve Queensland today grew up and took form, its primary focus, however, is the Dunn family chain of daily and nondaily newspapers which developed from 1890 until 1964. A secondary focus is those family newspapers which, in 1968, linked with the Dunn newspapers to form the PNQ Group — Provincial Newspapers (Qld.) Ltd. In each of the six cases, the families had run those newspapers for at least three generations.

In 1930 the Australian press stood on the threshold of turmoil. World War I had changed the economic basis of newspapers so that, during the 1920s, the most fragile were suddenly confronted with the prospect of amalgamation. As the Depression dawned, chilly winds were blowing in the newspaper world, leaving behind fewer mastheads as well as fewer owners. Chapter 2 sets the scene for the period under review in this thesis, 1930-1989, and provides a narrative account of the Dunn family's entry into newspapers and its development of the first chain of provincial daily newspapers in Queensland. The Dunns are placed, in Chapter 3, within national and international dynastic contexts. Case studies of other newspaper dynasties are provided.

The Dunn family ethos of caution, conservatism, honesty, integrity, Presbyterian values, localism and personal involvement in the community evolved in the twenty years of struggle (1891-1911) which the patriarch Andrew Dunn, his second wife Jane and the six sons endured in Maryborough when the Dunns controlled only one newspaper, the Maryborough Chronicle. Chapter 4 examines how the administration of the newspapers evolved from family to corporate control, yet retaining a strong family influence, and how the ethos influenced the style, tone and content of the newspapers which the family members directed, managed and edited. Comparisons are drawn between the ethos, style and demise of Australian and overseas newspaper dynasties and those of the Dunn dynasty. Chapter 5 examines the impact of ethos on the executive appointments the Dunns made. It considers industrial relations issues and looks at differential treatment: the Dunns treated their executive staff well, even generously, and the latter responded with loyal service, even to the extent of working themselves into an early grave, but sometimes the ordinary employees were dealt a different card by the Dunns.

From Chapter 6 to Chapter 10, the thesis paints on a broader canvas that incorporates not one but six pioneering Queensland provincial press families. The six joined together in a merger in April 1968 to ward off perceived threats of takeover from the metropolitan press, especially Rupert Murdoch and Sir Frank Packer. The amalgamation resulted in the formation of PNQ, which, technically, was a continuation of the Dunn family company. Chapter 6 considers marked similarities between the Dunn ethos and the ethos of each of the other five families and suggests why, finally, the Dunns were prepared to link with these other newspapers in an amalgamation on a more co-operative scale than the mergers of the twenties and thirties.

A sub-theme running through the thesis is that country newspapers are markedly different from metropolitan daily newspapers in their treatment of news and in their relationship with their communities. Chapter 7 considers this issue, especially in relation to impact on circulation and to survival as a business enterprise. The number of mastheads has dwindled, especially in the capital cities, and ownership has become more concentrated. Within this context, the daily newspapers which the Dunns published in Queensland, were survivors, and so contributed to the natural history of the Australian provincial newspaper. Their ethos of localism and integrity reflected the desires of their communities and won the loyalty of subscribers. The Dunns knew their communities, were involved in them, and this was reflected in the pages of their newspapers and in the steadily growing circulations and edition sizes. Circulation comparisons are drawn with "yardstick' newspapers published in roughly comparable regional communities.

The profound revolution that has swept over newspapers since the mid-sixties — with the change from hot-metal typesetting to photo-composition, and the shift to web offset printing — is examined in Chapter 8. Economies of scale in the newspaper industry affect bigger and smaller newspapers differently, but one common factor is that they provide an impetus towards single-newspaper markets. Chapter 9 considers the profitability of the Dunn family newspapers and PNQ from 1930- 1988. It considers also the "corporate grasp' of the family newspaper executives in an increasingly complex commercial and political environment, and it examines the successes and failures, particularly of PNQ. Chapter 10 focuses on the ultimate demise of the Dunn newspaper dynasty and the five other dynasties that linked with it to become PNQ.

This thesis considers three major factors as having contributed to the demise of the six Queensland provincial newspaper dynasties:
      (1)  the caution of the families and their nepotism in executive appointments;
      (2)  the blurring of the vision of the patriarchs; and
      (3)  the increasingly complex corporate environment and the vastly different media and trade practices rules that prevailed in the late 1980s.
Keyword Dunn family
Provincial Newspapers (Qld.) Ltd. -- History
Newspaper publishing -- Queensland -- History
Australian newspapers -- Queensland -- Ownership
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