Paper Emperors

By Sally Young NewSouth Publishing

Before newspapers were ravaged by the digital age, they were a powerful force, especially in Australia – a country of newspaper giants and kingmakers.

This magisterial book reveals who owned Australia’s newspapers and how they used them to wield political power. A corporate and political history of Australian newspapers spanning 140 years, it explains how Australia’s media system came to be dominated by a handful of empires and powerful family dynasties. Many are household names, even now: Murdoch, Fairfax, Symes, Packer. Written with verve and insight and showing unparalleled command of a vast range of sources, Sally Young shows how newspaper owners influenced policy-making, lobbied and bullied politicians, and shaped internal party politics.

The book begins in 1803 with Australia’s first newspaper owner — a convict who became a wealthy bank owner — giving the industry a blend of notoriety, power and wealth from the start. Throughout the twentieth century, Australians were unaware that they were reading newspapers owned by secret bankrupts and failed land boomers, powerful mining magnates, Underbelly-style gangsters, bankers, and corporate titans. It ends with the downfall of Menzies in 1941 and his conviction that a handful of press barons brought him down. The intervening years are packed with political drama, business machinations and a struggle for readers, all while the newspaper barons are peddling power and influence.

Sally Young

Sally Young is professor of political science at the University of Melbourne. She is the author of four previous books on Australian media and politics, including works on political journalism (How Australia Decides, 2011), press photography (Shooting the Picture, with Fay Anderson, 2016) and political advertising (The Persuaders, 2004).

Judges' report

This is a definitive account of the origins of the newspaper industry in Australia, uncovering through meticulous research, the deals, dynastic intrigues and politicised government policy which has created the newspaper business we currently have.

Young’s book is a seamless historical account which weaves the best of storytelling devices and academic research into a highly readable history. It will stand the test of time, contributing to our collective understanding of what media is and should be in Australia.

Further reading


‘Papers Emperors should be on the reading list for every course on media history and is an essential text for anyone who is curious about the rise, and rise, of the media industry in Australia.’ Dr Rachel Franks, Dictionary of Sydney.

‘Sally Young opens a pandora’s box into the very real world of crime, politics, strategy, ruthlessness, financial gain, bankruptcy and manipulation that is seldom seen, let alone touted in the papers.’ Janet Mawdesley, Blue Wolf Reviews.


Read Professor Sally Young interviewed by Professor Matthew Ricketson on Paper Emperors in Australian Policy & History.