Centenary celebration of the Dominion newspaper

  • Helen Clark
Prime Minister

Great Hall, Old Museum Building

Acknowledgements: British High Commissioner, George Fergusson, Fairfax Chief executive David Kirk, Fairfax New Zealand Chief Executive Joan Withers, Editor Tim Pankhurst and past editors of The Dominion newspaper.

Tonight, we are celebrating a remarkable milestone for a well-loved Wellington institution ¯ it is truly significant that today The Dominion newspaper marks 100 years of service to its readers. The Dominion newspaper is a very unique and integral part of Wellington’s identity.

Congratulations to Tim Pankhurst and his team for putting together this innovative event. I want to acknowledge all former and present staff, including reporters, subs, news chiefs, and editors ¯ you have all contributed to a very rich part of Wellington’s heritage.

From day one, The Dominion newspaper has demanded our attention.

When a group of conservative farmers and businessmen set up the Wellington Publishing Company, their plan was to launch a rival to the New Zealand Times, which was described then as a “strongly liberal” paper. At the time the New Zealand Times had enjoyed the morning newspaper market to itself since 1880.

When Prime Minister Sir Joseph Ward announced New Zealand was no longer a colony, but a dominion, it gave the new publishing company the launching pad they were looking for, and a start date.

The founders of The Dominion newspaper one hundred years ago clearly recognised the symbolic importance ¯ and obviously the marketing value ¯ of Dominion Day. The new paper’s directors cast aside other names they had considered for the new newspaper, and promptly registered the name The Dominion.

It is a hugely significant event, that today, we celebrate not only the centenary of New Zealand’s dominion status, we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first issue of The Dominion newspaper. And so it came about that The Dominion newspaper was launched on 26 September 1907, on Dominion Day.

While change from being a colony to dominion state did not make any substantial difference to New Zealand’s status, it did have a symbolic importance.

We began to see ourselves more as a growing nation and less as a colonial outpost of England. Our perceptions of ourselves changed, and therefore the world began to see us differently, too.

Earlier today I hosted a symposium at parliament to mark the centenary of Dominion Day. The day-long seminar saw academic and constitutional experts debating concepts of nationhood, and the impressive line up of speakers included Sir Geoffrey Palmer, Jamie Belich, Ngatata Love, Giselle Byrnes, Dr Andrew Ladley, Alison Quentin-Baxter, Colin James, David McIntyre and Charles Royal. We also re-enacted the 1907 illumination of the General Assembly Library. If you get down there before midnight tonight you will see the arches and roofline of the building illuminated for the first time since 1937.

As Karl du Fresne notes in his book, The Dominion began with a political motive and continued to be intensely political for much of its life.

That original motive was to further the cause of the Conservative Party. It is hard to comprehend a time when publishing an openly partisan newspaper was acceptable – but 1907 was such a time.

Political manoeuvring continued to have an impact on the fortunes of The Dominion newspaper. Initially, the Liberal administration channelled all government advertising to the pro-liberal New Zealand Times and the independent Evening Post. The Dominion newspaper responded by publishing the advertisements anyway, at its own cost.

In the early days, political news was also withheld from The Dominion newspaper due to government displeasure. The paper worked to improve its standing, most notably with its huge effort to cover the fire at Parliament Buildings in December 1907.

As time went on, journalistic independence became a topic of interest. Labour’s victory in the 1935 election sparked ongoing discussions about The Dominion’s editorial policy, and the paper finally declared its editorial independence in 1959.

It is no surprise that politics remains integral to the identity of The Dominion or The Dominion Post as it is now. As a politician I certainly disagree with my fair share of newspaper stories – but I am pleased to live in a country and a time where diverse opinions can be heard.

The words of Evelyn Hall spring to mind: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

When The Dominion newspaper first rolled off the press for the first time, we had a Liberal government, led by Sir Joseph Ward.

Transport was improving dramatically, with the North Island main trunk line nearing completion and cars and electric trams changing the way New Zealanders lived.

The population of the North Island had just surpassed that of the South Island.

Plunket was established, and those iconic publications, the Edmonds Cookbook and School Journal were launched. Organised sport was becoming a more popular and important part of our society.

One of the most dramatic events of 1907 in Wellington was the fire that destroyed much of the old wooden Parliament buildings. This single event became very significant for The Dominion newspaper because the newspaper seized the opportunity to demonstrate just how hard it would work to cover political news. With all hands on deck and a late edition coming out at 5 am on the morning of the fire, The Dominion newspaper proved itself by breaking the story.

One of The Dominion’s strengths has been its ability to adapt. From adopting a new name to capitalise on Dominion Day, to its inspired coverage of the 1907 fire, to fighting political ostracism, to its review of editorial policy, to the decision in 2002 to merge with the Evening Post and lastly, to the future-proofing evident on The Dominion Post’s website, The Dominion newspaper has cemented its place by meeting the need for change, with the ability to adapt to change.

I am sure the original founders of The Dominion newspaper could not have imagined some of the news events that have been reported along the way, let alone the societal and technological advances that have changed the face of The Dominion newspaper.

The way we receive and view our news and information today could not have been imagined in 1907. The sight of someone using their computer, cellphone or i-pod to catch up on what is happening is as common as reading a newspaper was in 1907.

In order to glimpse the future of The Dominion Post it is worth visiting its website. Especially if you would like to subscribe to the digital version of the paper, request a headline alert by text, or view a news conference, to name a few possibilities!

The array of options on the website challenges our perception of what a newspaper is. It also confirms that running a newspaper in 2007 is about connecting people with the news, in many different ways. The printed version of the newspaper is but one of many ways to access The Dominion Post.

Some of you may have had a chance this evening to look at Karl du Fresne’s book: “The Dom, A Century of News”. Published by The Dominion Post for this centenary celebration, it recalls the history of The Dominion newspaper and delves into the personalities behind the paper, as well as traversing the major news stories of the century.

Congratulations Karl. It is my honour this evening to formally launch “The Dom, A Century of News”.

Congratulations to everyone here celebrating Dominion Day, and especially a very proud history of 100 years of delivering news to the Wellington reader.