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Whatever happened to young newspaper carriers?

  • The old Community Voice newspaper carrier bag.

By: Irene Hilsendager
January 12, 2018

International Newspaper Carrier Day is not until October, but the curiosity was raising its head as to what happened to those young carriers and did the experience teach them something? 

When the Community Voice moved its operation to Sonoma for several years, it was my sad job of telling 64 young men and women there no longer was a delivery job for them. It was heart-breaking as many of those children between the ages of 10 and 14 depended on the money received from the newspaper deliveries in order to buy school clothes or just have the extra spending money for movies, etc. 

I have spent many hours searching for any one that did home deliveries back in the 90s. So far no one has answered my calls as I know that many have become successful business people.

I had become desperate as I was not meeting my deadline so I walked into a local grill and announced, “Has anyone ever delivered newspapers on a bicycle as a youngster.” One gentleman raised his hand and said, “Yes, back in New Jersey when I was ten years old in winter and summer. In winter, I froze and in the summer, I was sweltering. Since this was a daily newspaper I would have to come home from school, fold, insert and fill my carrier bag, get on my bike and take care of my duties. I feel that doing newspapers gave me confidence, a sense of responsibility and also made me the big kid in the neighborhood.”

The number of paper boys and girls has declined dramatically in recent years and again this is due partly to the disappearance of afternoon newspapers. The numbers have also been affected by the availability of news and newspapers on the internet, employment laws and concerns about the safety of un-escorted children. Now it has led to delivery by adults early in the mornings with loud noisy cars and finding the newspaper at the very end of the driveway. 

Many successful business people started out delivering newspapers. It was a great first job for the children who were too young to bag groceries, etc. Many have said that paper routes have greater rewards than money. Along with the incentive to earn money, it also creates a bond among the carriers, customers and the newspaper. The newspaper is part of the community and the children are also part of the community. Even brothers and sisters have followed in each other footsteps after they have seen the money coming into their bank accounts.

Parents often were the lifelines as they would help fold the newspapers and if it was rainy, the old station wagon would be chugging down the road while the youngster sat in the back and flipped the paper into the driveways.

The local carriers never had to worry about snow or sleet but often times summers were extremely warm and humid.

But alas, there are no more paper boys and girls. Liability makes it impossible to employ them. Today most of the newspaper carriers deliver by car as they can double the number of customers they can reach. There is no longer a hard rule that newspapers should be porched as in prior years. Most customers will say, “I had to trudge to the end of the driveway again this morning.”

Diligent carriers opened up checking and savings accounts at the local bank. It taught them to enjoy the outdoors, make friends in the community, how to manage money and showed that determination paid off.

When the Community Voice hired newspaper carriers, incentives were always given. If any carrier didn’t have any complaints for a month, they and their family would receive a large pizza on the first Friday of the month. They would have their photos taken and positioned in the local paper. Another catch was weekend movie tickets. This always enticed other carriers to “best” their buddies. 

For reasons including the slow death of afternoon newspapers, adults in cars make up over 81 percent of the country’s newspaper carriers. Paper boys and girls had a sense of community in which the carriers played a large role. Now that opportunity is lost that has given children business skills on how to deal with people and money.

Some publishers have said that due to the level of work it takes, turnovers were extremely high. Kids didn’t stay very long so every time someone quit, time had to be taken to rehire and retrain which increases costs and now most newspaper companies have switched to adult carriers who can cover a much larger area. Other companies have turned to mail outs which does not please all of the customers, but again it comes down to time and money.