The North Otago Times was first published on 25 February 1864 under the title Oamaru Times and Waitaki Reporter.
The paper was founded by Frank Pinkerton. In 1870 William Jukes Steward was the registered owner and the title was changed to the North Otago Times. Initially the paper had been issued weekly, but in 1876 it began daily publication. This was in anticipation of the setting up of a rival daily, the Oamaru Mail. The rivalry was real but sporting - the Times printed the first issue of the Mail in 1876 when the Mail's equipment failed.
The Mail was started by William Jukes Steward, the local MP, who had previously owned the Times. Steward and some associates probably started the paper to provide a forum for their political views particularly those concerning the abolition of provincial government in New Zealand. Steward was in favour of abolition even though the Otago MPs tended to favour retention of the provincial system.
Initially the Mail struggled against the Times and the paper soon changed hands. However the Mail was given an unexpected boost in 1877, as a result of the new owner George Jones being tried by the House of Representatives for criminal libel for comments printed in the Mail. This was the first state trial ordered by Parliament. Jones was acquitted and gained a reputation as a champion of freedom of the press. The public showed its appreciation by patronising the Mail. Its circulation and advertising rose. The Mail ultimately triumphed over the Times - it is still published whereas the Times ceased in 1932.