150-year milestone for independently owned West Coast newspaper

7:36 pm on 23 November 2023

By Westport News reporters

Westport News turns 150 - The Westport News team: Front from left: printer Debbie Daniels, reporter Ellen Curnow, advertising manager Ray Curnow. Back from left: reporter Raquel Joseph, typesetter Brett Evans, office administrator Joanne Lavery, co-owner/chief reporter Lee Scanlon, proof reader Robyn Callaghan, manager Vanessa Neighbours, printer/driver Sharna Johnson, typesetter Ellen Herbert. Absent: drivers Jan Berry, KerriAnne Fussell, Kevin Vuglar

Front from left: Debbie Daniels, Ellen Curnow and Ray Curnow. Back from left: Raquel Joseph, Brett Evans, Joanne Lavery, Lee Scanlon, Robyn Callaghan, Vanessa Neighbours, Sharna Johnson and Ellen Herbert. Absent: Jan Berry, KerriAnne Fussell and Kevin Vuglar. Photo: Supplied / Sheree Cargill Photography

One of New Zealand's smallest independent daily newspapers turns 150 today.

The Westport News was started by the self-styled Buller Lion, politician Eugene O'Conor.

He wanted a mouthpiece when he sought election to the Nelson Province superintendency. It didn't work - O'Conor lost.

But his Buller News, later to become the Westport News, has survived since 23 November, 1873.

It has had relatively few owners since then. All but one has been a family or private owner.

The longest standing were the Atkin family, who owned the paper for 50 years, and Colin and Mary Warren, who owned it for 40 years.

The Warrens bought the paper in 1978 from Nelson Evening Mail owners, the Lucas family, who were printing the Westport News in Nelson and flying it to Westport daily. Under the Warrens, The News bought its own printing press and production returned to Westport.

In 2017 the Warrens sold The News to the paper's long-serving chief reporter Lee Scanlon and her husband, Kevin.

Lee Scanlon said the Warrens had kept the paper going when many would have walked away. "Without their 40-year commitment I doubt we would be celebrating 150 years today."

Under the Scanlons, The News became the first independent daily newspaper in the South Island to reach a copy-sharing deal with RNZ.

"At the time, it meant the difference between the newspaper surviving and going under," Lee Scanlon said.

"The arrangement has also given our readers access to news they would otherwise not have had in their local paper. And Buller stories of national significance have gained a wider audience via RNZ's website."

RNZ chief executive and editor-in-chief Paul Thompson congratulated The News for reaching such an important milestone.

"Independent publishers who serve their community are to be cherished, and especially those which have stood the test of time," Thompson said.

The News employs 14 people, plus runners, and publishes five days a week. It produced a 12-page anniversary special, in addition to its usual 12 broadsheet pages, today.

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