Why The Advocate-Messenger is switching to mail delivery

Published 8:26 am Tuesday, January 17, 2017

As you read the story on today’s front page, you probably asked why The Advocate-Messenger is changing its delivery method. And you may have wondered about the newspaper’s carriers and their families.

While partnering with the U.S. Postal Service was a business decision, it was not a decision taken lightly. It’s a decision that we have spent more than a year making, as we investigated and talked with other newspapers that have and haven’t switched to mail delivery.

Distribution is the lifeblood of any newspaper, and our carriers have done an amazing job for the past 151-plus years. That made this decision even tougher.

Some of our current carriers have been delivering the Advocate for almost 40 years.  It is an extremely challenging job, sometimes requiring them to work in the worst weather conditions you can imagine. But their dedication to deliver your news was the most important thing on their minds.

Sitting in a car for 5-6 hours a day, driving the same roads, starting and stopping up to 300 times during the drive, is more difficult than you might think. Walking routes, requiring carriers to carry 100-plus papers each day, are tough, too. Carriers have to make sure they are delivering to correct houses, put the paper where each customer wants it, and deal with weather — and maybe a barking dog or two — along the way.

And then there are the deadlines. Our carriers are usually not the ones to blame when your newspaper is running late. They are just at the tail end of a long production process — and the most important ones at that. Our staff can do the best news gathering, writing, editing, proofing, photography, taking of classified ads, selling of advertising space, printing and inserting of ads, but if we didn’t have a reliable delivery force, all of that work goes out the window. The most important job is getting the paper delivered to your house, where you want it and when you would like to receive it.  Without this last part, finishing the job, our product is totally worthless

In the past — and some of us would like to live in the past — we had newspaper carriers delivering on bicycles, skateboards and by foot.  Carriers have often been friends or business partners. In many cases, carrying the paper was a family business. Mom and Dad might be helping fold, insert, stuff the paper in plastic bags, and siblings could be found helping as well. Parents would help their paper boys and girls out by driving them around for delivery when they needed to be done early for a basketball or football game in the evening.

Many people today started their working careers as newspaper carriers. It was a job that laid the groundwork for a successful career. The lessons it teaches are not quickly forgotten. Carriers learn not just about delivering a newspaper but about customer service, the importance of doing something you said you were going to do, being committed to getting up early and regularly and more.

You get the point — many of us owe a newspaper route for teaching us the value of hard work and making possible numerous successful careers.

Now back to the decision to partner with the post office. As we began looking at our business model last year, it quickly jumped out to us that we are delivering newspapers in a very large coverage area consisting of five main counties and the fringe areas of a few others, which makes for a very difficult and expensive proposition.

In addition, we were not able to deliver newspapers to some of the remote areas of our coverage area because the distance between homes and the time and cost it took to reach those customers was too great. In order to deliver to all of our current and future customers in a timely and cost-effective method, we needed to do something.

As we looked at our options, which ranged from partnering with another newspaper to outsourcing to a delivery service, it was clear that we needed a partner that specializes in daily delivery to every home and business, regardless of the weather or road conditions. That is where the U.S. Postal Service stepped in.

Although the Postal Service is facing its own challenges of decreasing mail quantity and a huge pension obligation, local postal officials were more than eager to work with us on a solution that would help both parties. Their carrier force is their strength and we are now able to utilize that strength to help our newspaper continue to prosper.

While many may see this as a sad day for the Advocate-Messenger, I see this as a positive step for our loyal subscribers and readers.

I invite anyone to reach out to me with questions at (859) 469-6400 or via email at larry.hensley@amnews.com.