Dunedin’s population grew rapidly in the 1860s following the discovery of gold in Central Otago and the local newspaper scene was transformed. New Zealand first daily newspaper, the Otago Daily Times, began in 1861 and shortly afterwards Dunedin’s other long-lasting daily newspaper, the Evening Star was launched. The Star struggled financially in its early years and in 1869 passed into the hands of its creditors. However, soon afterwards George Bell purchased the newspaper and as owner and editor he placed the Star on a much sounder footing, seeing off several rivals in the evening field. In 1879 an issue of the Star covering a tragic fire in Dunedin’s Octagon sold 8,300 copies, thought to be a record at that time for a New Zealand newspaper.
Bell retained sole ownership of the Star until he was well into his eighties, when he transferred ownership to his family, beginning a long-standing relationship between Bell’s descendants and the Star. Bell was succeeded as editor in 1894 by Mark Cohen, who already had a long association with the Star as a crusading journalist. Under Cohen the Star advocated social reform and was a vigorous supporter of Liberal policy. The Star flourished during Cohen’s editorship, and attracted notable contributors such as the Presbyterian minister and social reformer, Rutherford Waddell, who wrote a weekly column for the Star for 27 years.
The Evening Star made a strong contribution to sporting journalism. In 1907 it began issuing a Saturday night sporting edition which evolved into the Star Sports, which for many years was published in tabloid form with distinctive yellow newsprint coversheets.
The depression years of the early 1930s curbed plans for expansion and the outbreak of World War II also hindered growth. However, in the post-war period the Star entered an era of expansion much greater than any other in its history. Vic Cavanagh, perhaps better known as coach of Otago’s rugby team during their Ranfurly Shield tenure in the 1940s, was general manager from 1950 to 1973 and became an influential voice in the newspaper industry.
From a high point in the early 1960s, when the Evening Star had a circulation of more than 30,000, the Star began to decline; in common with other evening newspapers competition from television was a key factor. In 1975 the Evening Star and Otago Daily Times companies merged to become Allied Press and on 3 November 1979 the Evening Star ceased as daily newspaper. The Star was transformed into a community newspaper and as at 2015 continues to be published in this format.
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