It is the second-oldest continuously-produced newspaper in Australia, having been published since 1833. It currently has a weekday circulation of 200,000, and a weekend circulation of 370,000 with its Saturday edition. The West is politically populist, with strong conservative leanings. It was described by former Prime Minister of Australia Paul Keating as the worst newspaper in Australia.
The newspaper contains international, national and local news. Contemporary columnists include Paul Murray (previously the managing editor of the newspaper) and Danny Katz (a Melbourne-based columnist for The Age newspaper whose column is also syndicated by The West).
The paper publishes a supplement titled WestWeekend Magazine which is included as an insert in the Saturday edition. The West also operates a "breaking news" website (thewest.com.au), which is edited by Lee-Anne Petchell. In April 2008, the website was expanded to include a video news service called West TV, to compete with similar services from Fairfax Media and News Limited.
The West Australian traces its origins to The Perth Gazette and Western Australian Journal, the first edition of which appeared on 5 January 1833. Owned and edited by Perth postmaster Charles Macfaull, it was originally a four page weekly. It was, at first, published on Saturdays, but changed to Fridays in 1864. Eventually renamed The Perth Gazette and was published by Arthur Shenton, until 26 June 1874, when it was bought by a syndicate who renamed it The Western Australian Times and increased production to two editions a week. On 18 November 1879, it was relaunched as The West Australian. In October 1883, production was increased to three editions per week; two years later it became a daily publication. (The proprietors of the West Australian at that time also inaugurated the Western Mail, in 1885.) Initially, delivery of the paper beyond settled areas was problematic, but the growth and development of the rural railway system in the early 1900s facilitated wider circulation.
As part of the 175th anniversary in 2008 the newspaper began producing a special 32 page commemorative magazine titled 175 Years of Headlines - the first produced on the 15th May 2008 - being for the period 1833-1857; the second produced on the 22th May 2008 - being for the period 1858-1882; the third produced on the 29th May 2008 - being for the period 1883-1907; the fourth produced on the 5th June 2008 - being for the period 1908-1932; the fifth produced on the 12th June 2008 - being for the period 1933-1957; the sixth produced on the 19th June 2008 - being for the period 1958-1982; the seventh produced on the 26th June 2008 - being for the period 1983-2008.
The 'West Australian was owned by the publicly-listed company West Australian Newspapers Ltd from the 1920s. In 1969, the Melbourne based The Herald and Weekly Times Ltd bought WAN and published the paper until 1987 when it was sold to Robert Holmes à Court's Bell Group in 1987 when the remainder of H&WT was bought by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation. The following year Alan Bond, through Bond Corporation, gained control of Bell Group and hence the paper. This ownership structure only survived for a few years until the collapse of Bond Corporation. A newly formed company, West Australian Newspapers Holdings, then purchased the paper from the receivers before being floated in an oversubscribed $185 million public offering.
West Australian Newspapers Holdings Limited is currently listed on the Australian Securities Exchange with the largest current shareholder, as of July 2008, being Seven Network Limited with 22.3% equity. As well as the newspaper, its major asset, the company holds a number of other strategic and important media outlets.
In September 2007, WAN sold its 50% interest in the Hoyts Cinemas Group which operates 55 cinemas in Australia and New Zealand including Hoyts Film Distribution and Val Morgan Cinema Advertising to a private equity firm.
The location of the West Australian Newspaper offices and operations in Newspaper House on St Georges Terrace across the road from the Palace Hotel was a significant landmark for over 50 years in the social and political life of Perth and Western Australia. It was not until 1988 that larger and more modern premises, for the paper's printing presses, were established in Osborne Park - but it was another 10 years before the editorial aspect of the newspaper moved to the same location.
In May 2007, the state Attorney-General Jim McGinty described the newspaper as "the nation's most inaccurate and dishonest newspaper". He went on to attack the editor, Paul Armstrong, saying that "the board of West Australian Newspapers needs to sack the editor. It is personally driven by a particular individual". Armstrong responded by saying he "could not give a fat rat's arse" about Mr McGinty's comments.
The exchange was prompted by a caption below a photograph in the 24 January 2007 edition of the paper showing a female patient, incorrectly described as elderly and lying across three seats in a casualty waiting room at one of Perth's public hospitals which McGinty saw as portraying an incorrect impression of the health system.
Canvassing by the Australian media industry for the removal of restrictions on free speech in the national 'Right to Know' campaign is currently underway and state legislation supporting the national legislative changes is seen as essential in making the new federal laws workable. Some of the comments made by McGinty and the Premier, Alan Carpenter alluded to a threat of withholding the required state legislation unless the newspaper addressed the Government's complaints.
On 15 February 2008, The West Australian today reported that Health Minister and Attorney General Jim McGinty's staff have effectively banned West Australian Newspaper reporters from attending his press conferences. This was following ongoing conflicts between Mr McGinty and The West Australian Newspaper.
On 2008-02-25, Seven Network Limited released a statement requesting West Australian Newspapers Holdings Limited (WAN) to call an Extraordinary General Meeting of shareholders at which it will put resolutions for the removal of all Non-Executive directors.
Chairman of Seven Network Limited, Mr. Kerry Stokes said "We have been appalled at the lack of leadership of the Board and the resulting performance of the company. Financially the reduction in the current dividend is symptomatic of the Board's performance. it is the only major media company in Australia forced to reduce its dividend payment, even against a strong local economy".
On 5 March, the Seven Network has launched a new website directly targeting the board of West Australian Newspaper Holdings (WAN). The website, www.refreshthewest.com.au, said that WAN "can do better for its shareholders".
The resolution did not pass at the shareholders meeting.