Autumn Phillips: Delivering newspapers around the Fraser Valley harder than it looks
March 6, 2008
Since I’m more of a snooze hitter than a chirpy morning person, the rare times that I witness the sunrise are significant ” either because I woke up early to catch a plane to an adventure, I’m heating up a cup of tea in a remote campsite somewhere or I’ve just had so much fun that I haven’t even been to bed yet.
So, it was something to be noted Wednesday morning that I had been up for an hour already when the sun poured over the mountains.
I could barely see out of the back window of my Isuzu Trooper because it was filled with bundles of newspapers ” the Wednesday edition, ready to hit the streets and the only thing separating it from my readers was me and my ability to find the location of the bright blue newspaper boxes listed on a printout on my front seat.
For the first half of the day, I was not a newspaper editor. I was a newspaper delivery driver, thanks to a gap in the staffing schedule and my stupid habit of raising my hand whenever someone asks for a volunteer.
What I learned about myself that morning: I’m a terrible delivery driver.
If your paper was in a weird place, or showed up at a weird hour or if you got 100 papers when you only wanted 10 ” it was my fault. (This is not an invitation to call me and complain.)
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It’s a lot harder than it looks.
Once we launched the new newspaper format ” the Sky-Hi Daily News ” it started in motion a machine that never stops. There is not a minute in the 24 hours of a day that someone isn’t working on this newspaper.
The first reporter arrives at 8 a.m. and the last reporter leaves the office around 10:30 at night. The news editor saves the final page at 11 p.m. The Production department prepares it for the press and by midnight, the press is rolling. At 1 a.m., inserters stand next to a table with the stereo blaring to put all the grocery ads and fliers into the paper ” by hand.
By 3 a.m., someone backs a van up to the dock and collects papers for delivery.
Those drivers head to the four corners of the county and start filling blue boxes.
I’m usually sleeping when that happens.
On my way through Fraser, out of habit, I pulled over and picked up a hitchhiker, completely forgetting that I had a good 50 stops to make before I reached her destination in downtown Winter Park.
I realized my mistake too late, took her to work and handed her a pile of papers to take into the lobby of the restaurant where she worked. Then I checked that restaurant off the list.
In that 15 minutes, a professional delivery driver would have been a quarter through the route.
Instead, I could hear people starting to slam the empty blue boxes and say, “Where’s today’s paper?”
Back in the day, the good old days, newspapers were delivered by children. Paperboys. That’s how most people a generation ago were introduced to a life of work.
But liability issues, changes in society and in the way the newspaper business works have made that a thing of the past.
Instead, it’s become adult work, and as I struggled through the third hour of delivery ” I wondered how children ever did this.
Part of the problem, of course, is that I’m a wimp. It’s been a long time since I did actual work ” the kind that requires you to wear jeans and carry a knife in your pocket.
It took me five hours to deliver newspaper to the Fraser Valley. (Sorry, Fraser.)
We have three pages worth of newspaper locations ” while we drop 125 papers in the post offices, we have many more drops of 10 or 15 papers in hotel lobbies, real estate offices, coffee shops and restaurants.
But as I walked into all those places and had little conversations with people everywhere I went, I had a pretty good time watching the town wake up.
The sun started shining, the ice started melting off the roads. I listened to the car radio and heard the KCMV deejays banter about the same news items every hour on the hour for five hours.
By the time, I was back at the office planning the next day’s paper, I saw my job a little differently ” seeing another side of this crazy process.
I was humbled.
I recommend to any business owner or manager to spend a day in the trenches. Get up from the desk, make deliveries, wash the dishes, answer the front desk phone.
Whatever it is that you tell people to do every day, but never do yourself.
Tomorrow, when I see the delivery driver coming in tired from flinging 2,000 copies of the paper, I’ll probably get him coffee or, at least, I’ll make him listen to my horror stories from the one day I spent on the streets.
If you want to talk about any part of the paper besides delivery, feel free to give me a call at (970) 887-3334 ext. 19600 or e-mail email@example.com.