I’ve been working in the newspaper business, technically, since I was 10 years old. That’s when I started delivering a shopper route in Northwest Rochester. I had 200 shoppers to deliver, spanning 17 blocks in our neighborhood. It became a family affair. The shoppers would arrive and we would stuff them in long plastic bags to protect them from the elements on the doorstep of each residence.
Then I picked up a Post-Bulletin route, and delivered both for a while, until I realized I could make more money delivering the daily newspaper six days a week instead of delivering the shopper one day a week. I did have to contend with collections back then, which was an interesting situation. People would suddenly draw their curtains shut, turn down their music or TV, and hide from me, so they could avoid paying $3. Sometimes they’d see me coming and whip out a $100 bill. “You got change for this kid?” Ah, no. I had never seen nor held a $100 bill, let alone tote around a briefcase full of enough small bills to make change for these wealthy newspaper subscribers.
There was this one subscriber who didn’t have enough money to pay for his newspaper subscription, but he was well-known for his massive baseball card collection. He wanted to keep his subscription going, so he offered for me to pick from his vast collection. I came home that day with a number of rookie cards from Hall of Fame baseball players. Not sure if that was a good idea, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. I still have those baseball cards somewhere in a box.
Then there was this one day when a Domino’s Pizza delivery driver drove by and saw me delivering newspapers. He told me he would give me $4 dollars if I hung all 200 of the door hangers he was supposed to hang on the doors in my neighborhood. I negotiated with him and asked him if I could receive a large supreme pizza for my family for supper than night instead of receiving money. He agreed, and I flew through the neighborhood hanging those doorhangers on every door knob. When I arrived at home, I told mom not to worry about supper. We were getting a free pizza from Domino’s Pizza.
Rain, snow, sunshine or whatever Mother Nature had in store, the newspapers had to be delivered. When friends wanted to get together, the newspaper route took priority. Work first, play later.
I recall subscribers leaving me a note at the door when I was delivering their newspaper. They wanted to talk to me. From the paper route connection, I picked up a lot of other jobs in the neighborhood. I was asked to babysit, housesit, let their dogs out to go to the bathroom, feed their dogs, feed their fish, shovel their driveways during the winter. Because people knew me as the trusted paperboy of the neighborhood, they knew my work ethic.
Back in the 1980s and 1990s, I recall there were waiting lists for kids to get a paper route. If a family with a lot of kids took over a paper route, that route may have stayed in that family for more than 20 years as each of the kids in the family took over the route when it was their time.
I later ended up working for the Post-Bulletin, eventually helping young people (just like myself) get set up with their first newspaper route. They were starting their own business, and most of them didn’t realize the significance of that experience.
Having a newspaper route taught me so many skills. I learned how to talk to a wide variety of people. Follow instructions and requests about where people wanted their newspaper delivered. I recall having to find and train subs to cover my route if I ever needed to be gone. The P-B also offered incentives to sell subscriptions, which I embraced. There was one year in which I was fortunate enough to sell 50 subscriptions and earn a trip to Disney World in Orlando, Fla.
Even though I didn’t realize it at the time, I was a small business owner of sorts. I learned about motivation, responsibility, commitment, managing money, and interpersonal skills. With my paper route money, I bought my first computer, a TV, bicycle, and probably built up a savings account along the way.
I never thought back when I was 10 years old that I would some day be working in the newspaper business, but yet here I am today. I still have a paper route. And, I love it.
Every Friday, our roughly 19,000 Fillmore County Journal newspapers arrive on a semi-truck, weighing between 17,000 and 25,000 pounds. I still get excited about delivering newspapers. I love the smell of freshly printed newspapers. I know, I’m weird. But, this is the final step in the process, and tremendously important.
Our drivers Greg Hoff, Todd Leiding, Mike Fosse and myself work in rotation to get the newspapers to each of the post office locations in our region. In addition, we drop off copies at rack locations along the way.
September 4 is National Newspaper Carrier Day. Sadly, times have changed and there are fewer opportunities for young people (age 10 to 13) to earn money and take on something as rewarding as a newspaper route. Most newspapers are delivered via the USPS now. Change is inevitable. But, I do feel bad for young people missing out on being a part of the newspaper delivery experience.