The Herald, in our new online Herald Features section, proudly presents:
Geoff Stirling’s First Editorial
St. John's Sunday Herald, May 12, 1946
The Sunday Herald enters a field strewn with the ghosts of other papers which started with a great bang only to end up a forgotten fizzle. Most of these other papers were born to champion a cause or plug a political policy, and when the people’s interest and the novelty of the paper waned so did the enthusiasm of the publishers, and the paper died a natural death from neglect.
The Sunday Herald is a young paper staffed by young men who believe wholeheartedly that there is room for it in this country; it does not pretend to compete with either the Daily News or The Evening Telegram, in fact it owes a vote of thanks to both for their assistance. The Sunday Herald aims to present exclusive news stories and columns along with a comic section to provide entertaining reading over the weekend. New features and sections will be added as time goes by to improve, in various ways, the reading quality of the Sunday Herald, and nothing will be left undone to obtain maximum reading interest.
The Sunday Herald has adopted a policy of limited advertising, admittedly a rather unique policy in this country, and one which will no doubt bring a cynical smile to the faces of newspapermen. But it must be recognized that if an advertiser is going to obtain full value and maximum benefit, it is necessary to limit the number of advertisements, otherwise the law of diminishing returns sets in. The Sunday Herald intends to assure its advertisers the greatest possible returns for their advertising.
Forgotten Land –
Conception Bay has never received much publicity from the local papers in comparison to its population. The Sunday Herald has over 20 correspondents in Conception Bay who will be sending in weekly news, and some 35 distributors will sell The Sunday Herald in Conception Bay, simultaneously with its sale in St. John’s. The Conception Bay page should prove not only of interest to out of town readers but also to City readers, as it gives an up to the minute clear picture of Conception Bay conditions and opinions.
by Mark Dwyer, Editor-in-Chief
It’s 1946, the year 51-year-old military officer, Juan Perón, is elected president of Argentina, the same year Winston Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech warns of a Soviet expansion. Italy abolishes its monarchy, and 12 Nazi leaders are sentenced to hang as a result of the Nuremberg war trials.
A world away, on an insular island in the middle of the Atlantic, a contested referendum is held to decide the colony’s future, posing a tormenting political question. Would we, the people, continue under a Commission of Government, restore responsible government or — as proposed by a fiery hog operator, journalist and aspiring politician — join Canada?
Joey Smallwood’s motion was thwarted in ‘46, but, as history reminds us, he’d prevail a few years later.
In ‘46, an electric range down at City Service on Water Street would set you back about $220, while a boiled ham just up the road at F.J. Scott demanded 75 cents. A gallon of potatoes over at Paul Kavanagh’s was 25 cents, and a shiny new Dodge DeLuxe came with a $1,069 price tag.
In the spring of that year, an ambitious 24-year-old by the name of Geoff Stirling was hawking his own product, St. John’s Sunday Herald, a 20-page weekly tabloid was modestly charging five cents.
Some instantly predicted its demise. Smallwood, a seasoned journalist who owned a newspaper, warned him to dismiss the idea. Stirling persisted. After working at his father’s restaurant, stashing away $25 a week, he’d saved $1,000, enough for four issues.
The legacy that is Geoff Stirling, the media maverick and visionary, was born. The work, though, was only beginning.
On May 12, that first issue, the inaugural of over 3,000 and counting, rolled off the presses. Stirling, fusing ink and sweat, wrote the paper himself (all but five columns and the letters-to-the-editor), sold all the advertising, printed the product and personally sold copies door-to-door.
A Time for Change –
That first issue — with the headline screaming “Hitler’s Son Alive in Germany” — sold out in just hours. The rest, as they say, is history.
For this scribe, who’s poured his young professional life into what’s now a magazine, thumbing through that first issue is like an archaeologist unearthing a hidden treasure. Blowing the dust off that original issue and — like an archaeologist of words — classifying artifacts of the distant past was a labour of love.
There’s been an obvious metamorphosis over the past six decades, yet the ghosts of that cardinal issue still live inside the pages today. The Phantom, Lee Falk’s famous comic strip, appeared in the first issue and never left.
Some of the province’s most celebrated citizens assaulted a keyboard to contribute to that first issue, columnists like author Michael Harrington, who later became editor of The Evening Telegram, and mayor Andrew Carnell, who surmised, “it (Herald) typifies the progressiveness of the city.” No doubt, the weekly was progressive, if not avante-garde. Some of the headlines were shocking, yet rousing ... “Husband Cuts Wife’s Throat. Wife Forgives All.” Another read “Negro Rapist Killed By Miami Police.”
Diverse Content –
Stirling blended Yankee sensationalism alongside pressing local issues. In a story on page 7, he hit the streets, asking locals what the National Convention meant to them. Like today’s product, that debut issue was a cluster of content, from an interview with local youth queen (Miss Shea), to an eye-popping story of page 3, a recount of Patrick Murphy’s dramatic jail break from Portugal’s most notorious prison, Cadiz.
Unlike today’s high-tech world, where journalistic technophiles comb the internet for details, Stirling and his contemporaries weren’t as lucky. He had a phone number (901), the dinosaur of technology, a typewriter, and a reporter’s hunger. “I simply told the stories,” Stirling said in a 2001 interview. But Stirling did more. He enticed readers with more than words. On the final page of that issue — in a prelude to what’s become a staple in today’s mag, he offered up a contest, a $265 trip for two to Miami Beach. The response was overwhelming, as was the demand for the product. It’s hard to believe, but a one-year subscription back in ‘46 cost $2.75, about the price of one issue today.
Little did Stirling realize back in the spring of ‘46 what lay ahead. His little paper would evolve into an institution, selling tens of millions of copies, creating what would develop into a media empire. Just six months after that first issue hit the streets, its paid circulation was already at 11,894 and had grown to 36 pages.
Asked what’s given him the most enjoyment, Stirling didn’t cite his successful television station, NTV, or pioneering radio station, OZFM, nor mention his numerous business accolades or financial windfalls.
“The Herald,” he says, “because it gives me the most freedom. I enjoy watching it hit the streets every week.”
So he should.
– By Mark Dwyer