Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Will the morning paper become an afternoon paper?

The News Times, which cut a bunch of staffers last summer, and which is under new ownership, seems to have a rotating deadline for its home delivery.

Once upon a time, the weekday paper was supposed to be delivered by 6 a.m. so people on their way to work could have it before they left for the day. No more. The new deadline is 8a.m. When a friend called at 8:20 this morning, the News Times answering machine bleated that if the paper hadn't be delivered by 11 p.m. to call back. 11 PM??? Perhaps the News Times is planning to return to its roots as an AFTERNOON PAPER. Or even an EVENING PAPER?

I doubt that. What is happening though, is a bit of difficulty staffing the home delivery roster. Home carriers are poorly compensated independent contractors on whom is foisted much of the true long term costs of delivery. They use their own vehicles, on which they are raking up milage, which lowers resale value. They pay for their own gas, oil, maintenance, and have higher insurance costs as well, and shovel out extra early in the snow. By contract, they must deliver the paper seven days a week, every week, every month of the year. If they want to go out of town, or have a day off, they have to pay someone else to make the deliveries while they are gone. The also have to keep books, and must "buy" their allotment of papers from the company.

Now that gas is over three bucks a gallon, I am wondering if the News Times is having difficulty finding people foolhardy enough to take the job. Enterprising boys and girls on bicycles are apparently in short supply as well. Moms think it's way too dangerous for them to be wheeling about unsupervised, at so early an hour when who knows who is lurking about.... Besides - they have to be in class before 8 a.m.!!! Wow. It's a different world.

Adults who do take the contracts soon realize after their first independent contractor's check - that they will net a pittance after their costs, to get up at 3 am. to make all their deliveries before six. These folks are getting wise to it all. As a small concession, apparently the company is hoping to make home delivery contracts more attractive by making the delivery deadline later.

Among the other staff cuts the paper has made - is the real human being who used to answer the phone when people called to say their paper hadn't arrived. All in all, some old-time subscribers are not happy. I know one who is planning go switch to the Daily News which is always in the neighbors driveway when she passes by on her 5:30 am walk. I suggested she could take a peak a Ct news online. She's considering the idea.

Ironically, readers who get home delivery are paying subscribers. Online readers, (the up and coming, thing for newspapers hoping to compete with Internet news) are supported by an expensive infrastructure, but they read between the gaudy, flashing animated ads for free.