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Athabasca University

Newspapers & Magazines

Privately-operated newspapers served as colonial print culture sponsors mainly from the late eighteenth century onward. Newspapers acted as sponsors when they developed patterns of practice that survived changes in management and, sometimes, ownership. As the most pervasive private sponsor of print culture, the colonial newspaper tended to dominate the field of popular culture. Cheaply produced and topical, it provided an important locus for debate and dissent. Letters to the editor were often the only public venue available in which colonial peoples could engage in colonial issues. Because newspapers were affordable, available, relevant, and easy to read, they served as the entry-level format for most colonial people in developing the habit of reading. As a conduit for introducing modernity to the colonial home, the newspaper would only be rivalled towards the end of the colonial period by radio.

Newspapers might be wholly owned and operated within the colony, or part of regional chains. The better-financed newspapers were often intended for the white colonial majority, paying little or no attention to other colonial audiences. However, each settler colony hosted newspapers intended for immigrant markets whose language was not that of the metropolis. And all colonies offered, at some point, newspapers for mixed race, transported, and indigenous audiences in colony-appropriate languages.

Newspapers were an important venue for professionalizing colonial people in technical and intellectual print culture occupations. Indeed, they were among the few employers outside the civil service, the church, and the schools where the educated colonial male could work as a professional. Many newspapers were as active as the missions in indigenizing their operations. In paying for submissions, newspapers also provided opportunities for women to acquire a measure of social status and financial independence.

Colonial magazines were a later development on the print culture stage. The economics of magazine publishing meant that their market was either school children, or the colonial middle class, who not only had high levels of literacy, but disposable income and the leisure to read. The length and format of magazines made them ideal for long, serialized works of creative fiction, as well as for poetry, short stories and folkloric genres. In homes where books were too expensive to purchase, magazines often served as the high-brow reading material for the family. Locally-produced literary magazines and those associated with voluntary associations like women’s clubs were particularly important in establishing a sense of community and accomplishment for women. Measuring the sale and distribution of imported magazines against those that were locally produced is one indicator of a developing cultural autonomy in colonies.

Since colonial newspapers and magazines were such important sponsors of print culture, it is necessary to know who wrote, produced, published, and read them. Just as salient for the study of private-sector periodicals is their relations with publicly sponsored periodicals.

When acting as print culture sponsors, privately-operated colonial newspapers and magazines might follow these practices:

  • assisting in the transfer of print culture values and skills by providinginformation, entertainment, and education to the general public in colony-appropriate languages;
  • providing an important intellectual forum for the greater colonial public through discussion and debate on contemporary issues;
  • endorsing the relevance of oral cultures within a print culture environment;
  • establishing certain oral and print genres as pre-eminent in colonial discourse;
  • mentoring a colony-based cadre of print culture professionals and providing them with meaningful employment;
  • building a community of readers.

In Papua New Guinea, privately-owned newspapers have dominated this category, in particular the Post-Courier and The Times of Papua. The longest-lasting of these, the Post-Courier, makes an interesting counterpoint to the mission-sponsored newspaper, Wantok, in language use and approach.  Local magazine production has been insignificant.

Updated October 13 2016 by Library Services