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Star’s Founder found.

February 11, 2019 February 2019 No Comments

Following Mate Higginson’s article on long time Star Editor Fred Michell we have been contacted by the grandson of the founder, Neil Closey. The founder was James Henry Claridge. This remarkable person had spent his working life establishing newspapers, thirteen in all, which once established he sold  and moved on to the next town which he considered ready for one. James’ son and daughter wrote a book on their father’s experiences which his granddaughter published. Neil  sent the Star a copy of the chapter on Martinbrough, which follows:

James Henry Claridge visited Martinborough first to see what reaction came to the idea of starting a paper in the town.  He was received coolly when he visited business men to support him with advertising.  Martinborough was then, as it is now, inclined to be conservative; farming made the town, and business supported the farmers, traditionally conservative and slow to change.  They read the papers printed in Greytown and Carterton, and The New Zealand Times from Wellington.  Why should they have as well a local paper.  Because it is local, answered James.  

He decided to go ahead in spite of lukewarm support.  In Wellington, he was able to buy an old press – this time the large machine made in Boston, and printed the first issue of The Martinborough Star in the latter part of 1904.  In spite of the uncertain start, the paper was a success from the beginning, and continued printing without interruption for many years.

Advertising then was a straightforward transaction between the newspaper owner, and the man who had something to sell. All life proceeded at a slower pace.  An advertisement, once set up, by hand usually, might remain the same for months on end.  A few advertisements came from outside the district in the form of blocks, or stereos, all ready to be fitted into the forme; they were no trouble, and very welcome.  

The products they advertised were well-known then, though most of them have long been forgotten; P.D. corsets, with a picture of a young woman with a wasp waist, always the same picture; Mellin’s Baby Food; Sapon Oatmeal washing powder; Wood’s Great Peppermint Cure; Van Houten’s Cocoa, Monkey Brand Soap and others. 

I found a block which seemed not to have been used for years.  It was a handy size to use at times as a fill-in; I had used it for some time, until a letter came to me from the manufacturers of the product it advertised asking me who had authorised me to use it.  I wrote to explain, adding that I expected no payment.  By return I received a cheque for five pounds, with a polite explanation that the firm had been out of business for some time.  Needless to say, I did not use it again – but my finances were at that time too strained for me to return the cheque.

“These advertisements which appeared unchanged again and again for years remained in people’s minds for a long time.  They were unsophisticated enough; but they gave all the information needed, and they didn’t irritate the reader – or the hearer now we’re in the days of radio – as many do to-day.  

It was most necessary for a newspaper man, all the same, to remember the importance of advertising; it was the failure to appreciate that this was the downfall of many a tyro, in the small towns; many a would-be editor who failed to remember that he was serving a town of ordinary folk, neither intellectual giants, or student, or morons; people who wanted news, not propaganda, information, facts, and a little humour now and then.  A small newspaper is not literature.  

Several times I saw a paper I had built up from nothing to be sound and flourishing, go to the wall after I sold it.  In each case I had sold to men better educated than most who simply had no instinct at all for that type of writing.  There were others who failed for a different reason – they were in the game simply to make money; they had no love for the work, and no feeling for people.  The two kinds were poles apart, yet each failed.

To be continued

Photo caption: The  Claridge family in 1902

Highlight: He was received coolly when he visited business men to support him with advertising.

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