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Not too long ago, newspapers were king in Halifax — looking back at a dramatic transformation

As the role of the newspaper continually changes in Halifax, one thing remains the same: there is always room for alternative news coverage.

From the mid-19th to the early 20th century, Halifax was home to five main papers: the Morning Chronicle, and its afternoon counterpart the Daily Echo, the Halifax Herald and the Evening Mail, and the Acadian Recorder.

Others came and went, including the Halifax Citizen, the Halifax Morning Sun, the Dartmouth Journal, and the Unionist and Halifax Journal, plus faith-based papers like the Church Guardian.

The big five newspapers were the kings of East Coast media for many years. For example, the morning-afternoon duos of the Herald and Mail and the Chronicle and the Echo each had circulations of about 10,000 in 1901.

The reason behind this success is twofold, explains historical author and journalist Dean Jobb.

“First, it was the the only mass media: no radio, and it would be decades before television, so that’s how people got their news,” he says. “The other … underlying factor was, at the turn of the century — early 1900s — the press was still partisan. In major cities, you would have a Liberal newspaper and a Conservative newspaper going head-to-head, promoting their party’s interest.”

Political involvement in newspapers waned in the 20th century, giving more editorial freedom. “It was possible to have an independent paper,” says Jobb.

However, readership started declining around mid-century, amid competition from exciting new technology like radio and TV. (Sound familiar?) And by becoming nonpartisan, many lost the loyalty of their core audiences.

By the mid-1900s, the Acadian Recorder no longer existed and the remaining four of the big five consolidated in 1949 to become the Chronicle Herald and the Mail-Star.

Jobb says that was a widespread trend after the Second World War, with many towns seeing once robust newspaper scenes consolidated to a single publisher.

Alternatives have come and gone, including the 4th Estate, which lasted from 1969 to 1977, the Daily News from 1974 to 2008, and the still-publishing Coast.

“The trend towards one-newspaper towns meant a monopoly in newspapers, and that does attract competitors, if they see a chance,” says Jobb. “It can be both a feeling that there’s stories that need to be told or are under reported.”

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