Evening Telegram, 1879-1960

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Although the Evening Telegram was not the country's first daily newspaper, it was by far the most successful. The end of the 19th century saw the last of the Newfoundland newspapers which had started between 1827 and 1833 -- the Newfoundlander, the Public Ledger, the Patriot, and the Times -- each cease publication after over fifty years of existence. The Evening Telegram was the first of the the three major daily newspapers which replaced the old guard and continued into the 20th century.

The earliest issues, with their four crowded, small, 3-columned pages, were printed on an antiquated hand press and looked it. Aimed at first at a Protestant readership, the content was typical of the time -- local news, shipping and fisheries news, an eccentric selection of foreign news bits, poetry and, invariably, serial fiction. About half of the space was devoted to advertisements. Within a year and a half, the paper was doing well enough to purchase two new presses, each larger than the previous, and to move to larger quarters.

Prior to Confederation, long term consistency in editorial policy was not the Telegram's strong point. Despite later claims that "its outspoken utterances on behalf of the masses awakened new ideas in the rising generation, and gave birth to a wholesome democratic spirit that broke down the barriers of the old regime of dry-rot Conservatism of a purse-proud oligarchy" (July 7, 1906), the Telegram was initially a Conservative paper, opposing "the 'Boss' of the Confederation Ring,Sir William Whiteway and his 'Amen Corner', the Hon. Ambrose Shea" (Oct. 17, 1882). The rival papers were the Harbor Grace Standard, "Mr. Whiteway's echo over the Bay" (Sept. 30, 1885), and the "Whiteway organ", the Evening Mercury. Particularly galling was the amount of patronage alloted to that paper: "Sir Whiteway has opted in this instance to pay theMercury people, for Government printing, prices equal to the highest given to Mr. Robert Winton during the gentleman's palmiest Journalistic days" (Aug. 15, 1885).

The early editorials were so bitter that the Halifax Herald of Aug. 16, 1883 made the oft-quoted observation: "Canada has one determined enemy. He lives down at Newfoundland in the City of St. John's. He is the editor of the Telegram, that humorously ill-natured sheet, which, as we once before pointed out, has abused everything in Newfoundland that was good for the Island."

After Whiteway retired in 1885, the Telegram increasingly opposed Thorburn, his successor, and eventually expressed "relief and exhilaration" upon hearing rumours that Whiteway would re-enter the political field (Oct. 8, 1887). The Evening Mercury, which had switched sides in the opposite direction, delighted in pointing out the Telegram's inconsistencies. The Telegram replied: "Our opposition to Sir William Whiteway, when we did oppose him was an honest, straightforward and manly opposition. ... Many of the measures passed during the Whiteway administration was [sic] forced on him by his allies. ... The Mercury is a vile ingrate and unworthy of the countenance of any political party" (Sept. 19, 1889).

For the next twenty years, the Telegram supported the Liberal Party of Whiteway and, later, Bond. The Daily News became its major rival newspaper and accused the Telegram of being the Premier's personal organ (Oct. 17, 1907). Flourishing under government patronage, in 1906, the Telegram purchased the first 12 page printing press in the country, the Daily News having purchased the first 8 page press a short time previously. The new press more than doubled the size of the paper and changed the appearance dramatically, most notably producing much bigger and better advertisements. In 1913, the Telegram claimed a readership of 40,000.

The paper had originally opposed the railway, but in 1889, supported railway extension. Although the Telegram applauded the Bond-Coaker coalition, in 1918, it once again switched sides, joining the Daily News and Evening Heraldin supporting Cashin, Warren, Monroe, Alderdice and the Conservative Party. Later editorials has a much more responsible and reasonable tone than they had in earlier years and dealt with broader concerns, such as the Depression, the buildup to World War II, the war itself and the Cold War. The paper supported the Commission of Government and avoided taking sides on the question of Confederation in 1948.

The Evening Telegram published material that was critical of the Smallwood administration in the 1950's and 1960's. Although the editorials, even if sceptical, maintained a respectful tone, some of the columnists, such as Harold Horwood and Ray Guy, were less circumspect. The government countered with a series of libel suits and prosecution for breach of privilege. When the government threatened to withdraw government advertising, the Telegram refused to accept their advertisements anymore.

After the Telegram was sold to the Thomson newspaper chain in 1970, critics felt it declined in appearance and content, in political outspokeness(14) and in coverage of the province outside of St. John's.(15) When the Daily News folded in 1984, the Telegram became the only daily paper in St. John's. An index to recent years of the Evening Telegram is available in the Provincial Reference and Resource Library.

This newspaper's description was sourced from Suzanne Ellison's Historical Directory of Newfoundland and Labrador Newspapers.

Dates of Publication:
3 April 1879 - present

Place of Publication:
St. John's

Issues on the DAI:
8 April 1879 to 10 December 1942

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