Marton’s first newspaper, the Rangitikei Advocate and Manawatu Argus, was established in 1875 by John Law Kirkbride and Charles Monaghan. Five months later Kirkbride was involved in the establishment of another newspaper when he launched Palmerston North’s first newspaper, the Manawatu Times.
The first editor of the Advocate was Alexander McMinn, an Irish-born journalist who had previously worked for Wanganui’s Evening Herald. In December 1877 the Advocate apologised to its readers ‘for the absence in our present issue of the usual editorial article and local news, the editor having failed to put in an appearance’. However McMinn appears to have been an able and energetic editor and the Advocate prospered; by 1880 the Advocate claimed that its circulation of 800 was the largest of any inland paper in New Zealand and by 1881 it had become a daily. McMinn was keen to own his own newspaper and in 1880 departed for Palmerston North to set up the Manawatu Standard in opposition to the Manawatu Times.
An important figure in the life of the newspaper was William Henry Smith. Under Smith the Advocate’s editorial stance was influential well beyond the Rangitikei; Guy Scholefield (Newspapers in New Zealand, 1958) states that ‘the Advocate for many years exercised an influence not inferior to that of some city organs’. However the Advocate was not universally popular. After moving to High Street the Advocate suffered three fires that were thought to have been started by infuriated readers and the Observer reported in 1902 that Smith ‘had the distinction of being burned in effigy a few nights ago by some of the back-country supporters of Mr Remington, the member-elect for the district. A mock funeral service was spoken over his effigy before the lucifer was applied.’
For most of its life the Advocate did not have a rival in Marton but from 1891 to 1896 the Liberal-leaning daily, the Mercury, provided competition. Francis Arkwright, a member of the Legislative Council from 1895, was associated with its establishment and Charles Wilson was its first editor before moving to the New Zealand Mail.
From 1903 to 1905 the Advocate was associated with the Farmers’ Advocate, a weekly published in Marton that was the official voice of the New Zealand Farmers’ Union.
During the First World War the Advocate experienced staffing shortages and used school girls to assist with printing of the newspaper. The Second World War also caused staffing difficulties and these were a contributing factor to the closure of the Advocate on 1 February 1941. The last editor was Harold Low, who later edited the Wanganui Herald.
Marton was without a newspaper until 1948, when Edgar Beckett moved from Patea and set up the weekly Rangitikei News. When the News folded in 1955, it was replaced by the Rangitikei Mail, which was produced by Paul Melody for over 30 years.