Centenary special charts the success of a family newspaper

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Any doubts about the health of Australia's regional press might be dispelled by the 152 tabloid pages of The Leader presented to readers on the occasion of its centenary in July.

And by the front page photograph of the South Australian newspaper's 24-strong team.

In a message to readers, managing director Tony Robinson says technology has transformed the way 'the Barossa's favourite newspaper' has evolved since it first appeared as a 'penny journal' on Wednesday, July 24, 1918. "The newspaper today is more colourful, there is more emphasis on page design, and through digital cameras and computerisation, we can publish almost immediately," he says.

"However, one of the fundamentals of William Kirkby Robinson, the founding manager and editor of The Leader is as applicable today as it was in 1918 - the paper's commitment to serve you, our reader."

Elsewhere in the 68-page supplement is a picture of the Scots-born Kirkby Robinson "making adjustments" on the Duplex press which printed the newspaper during the 1950s.

The paper was the second attempt at publishing on Robinson's part after he had arrived with his parents in 1910, supposedly to collect on an inheritance which failed to materialise. Aged 19, and after experience with a London sporting newspaper and at the SA Border Chronicle in Borderdown, South Australia, he moved to Edenhope in Victoria to launch his own newspaper, the Kowree Leader in 1913, fatefully ahead of the start of World War I.

Hostilities had not yet ended when he returned from service - having already started a family - and fulfilled an ambition by publishing the first edition of The Leader in Angaston, owning "only the clothes he stood up in". The four-page publication appeared with a circulation of 1000 copies and news and advertising which he and his new wife Agnes had gathered during the day and typeset late into the night.

The newspaper is now one of only a few not owned by Australia's major groups to have its own production facilities, with a Goss Community press which has been progressively expanded from the two units installed in 1981 to the current line which includes three four-colour towers. Recent developments have included a $350,000 building extension - which houses both letterpress, hot metal and digital printing equipment - a two-colour Heidelberg Speedmaster and the addition of spray dampening on the Goss.

Elsewhere, the message from Tony Robinson - who is the founder's grandson - his wife Angela and three sons, all of whom have roles in the business, is that "there is nothing else like working in the family newspaper".

Eldest son Peter Robinson manages a printing business which includes commercial work as well as the newspaper, brother Darren heads advertising sales, and Adam currently works at a local supermarket between being involved part-time in typesetting and with ambitions to join the editorial team.

Every good family needs a matriarch, and the centenary supplement tells how Angela Robinson giggled as she told of her curiosity about whether her future partner was "available" after seeing his picture in the paper.

These days, she says, she "supports the day to day running of the paper", having worked in page make-up, sales, filled in at the front office, led primary school tours, and now reads proofs and organises casual staff.

She talks in the supplement of the "huge challenge" of competing against a multinational company when a local rival was taken over... and of pride in watching her husband and sons build the current success. "I can see us being involved for a long time yet," she says. "Everything has worked out quite well."

Peter Coleman

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