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Newspaper companies struggle to attract carriers due to labor shortages and more flexible work options

Brenda Story knows the ins and outs of Eagle’s sprawling subdivisions like the back of her hand.

Six nights a week, she sneaks into the alleys until the wee hours of the morning to deliver the Idaho Press to customers to read at the start of the day. A little before midnight, she collects about 350 newspapers from the Idaho Press printing plant in Nampa, rolls them up and stuffs them into bags and throws them in the aisles, stuffs them into newspaper boxes and fills newsstands. .

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In total, it takes him five hours to complete his run. Story, 65, often drives home as morning shift workers begin to get restless. Despite the late hours, she still does not get tired of it after 21 years. It’s a continuation of a family tradition of newspaper work that began with his parents’ print shop, where they operated Linotype machines.

“I love my paper itinerary,” Story said. “I’ve done country routes, I’ve done town routes, I’ve done shop routes. A few years ago I took the Eagle route and it’s my favorite and I’ve done it. will probably do until the very end.

But just because Brenda feels at home scurrying around the dark streets of Eagle dropping off papers in the middle of the night, doesn’t mean the job is everyone’s dream. Newspaper carriers in Idaho, as well as across the country, have struggled to fill these positions in recent months as more choices have opened up for flexible, low-paying work across the country. This is becoming another struggle the beleaguered print industry must overcome in the digital age.

How does the job work?

What many people don’t know is that your paperboy isn’t even considered an employee of their newspaper company.

Instead, they sign as independent contractors. This is similar to how Amazon pays its delivery drivers on Amazon Flex who use their own vehicles to deliver packages or how Uber or Lyft drivers are categorized. They are paid based on the services they provide, but there are no health benefits, 401(k) matching, or other benefits.

And in an era of rapidly rising gas prices, it can be difficult for workers who have so many more options to earn extra cash to want to sign up to wear their own car and burn several tanks of gasoline. week to deliver newspapers to the side.

These contractors are essential to getting the Idaho Press to its customers, which reached a circulation of about 21,000 copies on Sunday last March. The Idaho Statesman also delivers to Treasure Valley with its own fleet of carriers. The newspaper’s management did not respond to a BoiseDev interview request for this story.

Brenda Story stuffs newspapers in her car at Eagle. Photo: Margaret Carmel/BoiseDev

Idaho Press Circulation Manager David Williams said they kept paper carriers going early in the pandemic, but it quickly became increasingly difficult to hire. In order to compensate for the pressures of other job choices, he said the newspaper had to make some changes. This included increasing pay per route and giving drivers they had more paperwork to throw away by expanding their autonomy.

“In order for people to be able to make the kind of money they’re looking for, we had to expand their territory,” Williams said. “They now deliver the same number of newspapers (over a longer distance), so they travel more miles to get them delivered.”

When someone leaves a route, it means people like Story take two routes in one night and end up on the road for hours longer than expected.

“Not all routes are created equal”

These paper routes are not the routes of yesterday where a college student could deliver a few dozen in his neighborhood before rushing to school.

The average size route for the Idaho Press is 250 customers. And because the carriers are independent contractors, each negotiates its own contract (and pays) with the Idaho Press. Williams declined to go into too much detail on the payment range per route, but said the average a carrier earns is 22 cents per delivered copy. But, there are many factors that determine how much someone gets paid.

The Idaho Press’s longest route is about 150 miles round trip, he said. That can be a lot for new carriers starting out, so Williams said the Idaho Press provides gas cards for new hires to get them to their first paycheck and slowly work people to offer a complete itinerary.

“Not routes are created equal,” he said. “Some routes don’t require driving very far, but other routes are in more rural areas and have dirt roads, so we have to pay a bit more. Because they are independent contractors and run their own business, we work with them to try to determine what the level of profitability is.

The story said that many people think of the job as a side job for kids, not realizing how much money you can bring in once you get down to delivering a full itinerary after mastering the 50 items you start. to deliver when you train. But, gas prices are a big hurdle that a lot of people don’t count on.

“I think the most important thing is, first of all, people don’t really realize how much money they can make on a paper route,” she said. “They think about the days when you would be riding a bike so they don’t come prepared but the good thing is you get paid twice a month but what hurts new carriers is if they don’t don’t have money coming in, it’s the price of gas.

To show creativity

Beyond paying people more, media companies are taking other avenues to further stretch their fewer carriers.

Kenton Bird, an associate professor at the University of Idaho’s School of Journalism and Mass Media, said he subscribes to several print newspapers, but they are mostly delivered by the same operator . At his home in Lewiston, he receives the Lewiston Tribune, the Moscow-Pullman Daily News and the Spokesman Review, all delivered by the same carrier. Its New York Times print is delivered by a second carrier that also fills the shelves of some local cafes.

“There is an economy of scale resulting from the dominant paper contracting with a former competitor for delivery,” Bird said.

Although the Idaho Press’s coverage area of ​​Ontario, down to Emmett and into Ada and Canyon counties is vast, it does not eclipse the broad delivery area of ​​the Lewiston Tribune. Bird said the newspaper delivers to Grangeville, north of Moscow, and three eastern Washington counties. That means more miles on carrier cars and dangerous winter driving conditions, especially for rural papers in northern Idaho, where the winter is harsher.

Even as news increasingly moves online, people like Bird and Story continue to be avid fans of the printed daily delivered to your door.

“There’s a lot more to it than just delivering documents,” Story said. “It’s about customer service, taking care of your customers. They are not just an aisle. People become really, really connected to their journal, and they depend on that journal to be there. I think after being in it for a little while, you either like it or you don’t. Those of us who like it, stick around.

Disclosure: The Idaho Press has a content sharing agreement with BoiseDev. The newspaper had no role in the selection or production of this story.

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