New Zealand Truth archive at the Auckland Museum
New Zealand Truth was a tabloid newspaper published weekly in New Zealand. It was founded in 1905 by Australian John Norton in Wellington, as a New Zealand 'Maoriland' edition of his Sydney Truth, aiming a sensational blend of sex, crime and radical politics at mainly working class readers. It continued to be published until 2012, then edited by the notorious Cameron Slater of 'Whale Oil' blog fame.
As a reflection of our social history, the Truth captured and reflected the lives of New Zealand's 'everyman' as well as taking the government, politicians and big business to task. This archive is a rich vein to be mined for popular culture, and a mirror reflecting the changing attitudes and norms of our society.
New Zealand Truth capitalised on unrestricted press coverage of divorce cases during its first half century, with court evidence of adultery cases given lengthy, invariably saucy treatment. In 1958, a Labour government passed a law restricting coverage to the bare bones of proceedings, removing a vital part of Truth's editorial 'bread and butter'. In 1963, as revelations of a seamy British political scandal involving Christine Keeler unfolded, audited circulation reached a peak of 240,000, and the weekly claimed a readership of a million Kiwis.
But the advent of television in 1960, the decriminalisation of Sunday newspapers in 1963, and changing attitudes to sexual morality associated with the 'Swinging Sixties' were already shaking apart NZ Truth's world. By 1980, circulation stood at 150,000, but a move to Auckland headquarters in 1982 and a 'brighter' Truth and TV Extra failed. By the mid 1990s, circulation fell to 50,000, and in 2005, as the once proud and powerful weekly approached its centenary, readership plummeted to a once unthinkable 12,000 from which there was no recovery.
In reflection of its diverse readership, a wide range of people have written or worked for the Truth - author Iris Wilkinson (Robin Hyde), Jean Wishart (later editor of the New Zealand Woman's Weekly), Sir Bernard Ferguson - the swimming correspondent 'Plunge', author Maurice Shadbolt, journalist Barry Soper, previous Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer, and actor/musician Charles 'Bruno' Laurence. Playwright Mervyn Thompson wrote the play 'NZ Truth Show,' which was first performed in 1982.
According to newspaper historian (and former NZ Truth journalist) Redmer Yska,
[The] Truth remained an outcast, the paper that always stood alone. In going after a big national story or exposing a reader's raw deal, it happily, even consciously, made enemies.... it became the trusted and relevant touchstone for hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders. More than that, Truth was our first modern newspaper, the vanguard for populist 'new' or 'yellow' journalism."
Cite this article
New Zealand Truth archive at the Auckland Museum. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 28 June 2017. Updated: 27 July 2017.
Post by: Paula Legel
Paula Legel is the Collection Manager of Serials & Acquisitions in Information, Library and Enquiry Services at Auckland Museum.