Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Confessions of a Grown-up Paperboy

Found that classic paperbag on EBay.
It was dirty and it had a hole in it.
Looks just like my old one.
Back in the 70s, newspapers were not always delivered by adults in cars. Newspapers were frequently delivered by “paperboys.” They would put their bundles of newspapers in canvas bags and either walk from house to house or ride their bikes. 

My first job was delivering newspapers and I did my route on a bike. Every morning, I would ride to the top of my street, Thomas Rd. in South Weymouth, Massachusetts, where a large bundle of newspapers would be waiting for me. I had eighty or so customers. About 60 were Boston Globe subscribers and fifteen or so were Boston Herald Traveler subscribers. There was also a handful of very discerning readers who got the Record American.

The suburb of Boston where I grew up was in an area referred to as The South Shore. It includes the suburbs between Boston and Cape Cod. The South Shore had its own newspaper which is still being published. It’s called The Patriot Ledger. Another boy in my neighborhood delivered that in the afternoon.

My father worked for the newspapers as a member of the Mailers’ Union. The Mail Room was where the papers were bundled and placed on pallets which were then loaded onto trucks. When I was in high school, right across Morrissey Blvd. from the Boston Globe, my father got me a few shifts on Saturday nights putting the Sunday papers together at The Globe. That was back when the Sunday newspapers were gigantic. It was a job an idiot could do, and I was fairly good at it.

The Mail Room was easily one of the noisiest places I’ve ever worked in. It's not as noisy as The Blue Angels at an airshow, but it's close. Some of the ink from the printing process actually ended up in the air and you breathed it. After a shift I always blew my nose and the mucous came out black.

I did well at writing in high school and I took several writing classes in college. One of those courses was Magazine Feature Writing at the University of North Florida. That class was taught by the unforgettable William Roach. Students in that class had to write four good articles and submit them to magazines. Most of us got published somewhere. It was a tremendous thrill to get a contract and see my byline in a real magazine for the first time. I went on to write book reviews for the Florida Times-Union and dozens of published articles for a variety of fine magazines.

In the 90s a friend of mine who was in radio ran for Congress and I got involved with his campaign. During that time I read dozens of books about the media. I was trying to learn enough to become a press secretary if my friend won. Unfortunately, he didn’t win. However, I had accumulated so much information that I felt like I had to do something with it.

Trivial Pursuit was hot. I created a trivia game called Media Mayhem. I intended for it to be a fun way for people to learn about the media. Although the game didn’t sell as well as I would have liked, I did manage to get guest spots on over fifty talk radio shows.

Just before the turn of the century, I got a communications job with a non-profit. Among other duties, I coordinated most of their interactions with the media. I pitched stories to radio, TV, and newspapers. I got media coverage for events and I got interviews for staff members when they had something to talk about. I also ghost-wrote letters to the editor from the non-profit's executives. There was lots of interaction with reporters, columnists, producers, and editors.

Journalism has changed a lot over the past two decades. The newspaper business especially has changed. I've observed, from afar, reductions in staff over and over at the Florida Times-Union. Very capable journalists to whom I previously pitched stories were just gone. Columnists and editors were gone. Life for those who survived didn't look easy either. Where some journalists previously had the ability to concentrate on a single beat (business, crime, entertainment), most now have to cover two, three, or more areas.  

For a few years, I took pictures of car wrecks and fires as a freelancer. It saddens me to say that while I was earning pocket change, I undoubtedly helped to wipe out a staff photographer position. The Times-Union used to have lots of excellent photographers. Now, they have a handful. They're truly excellent, but if you read the paper and pay attention, it's not hard to see that they are working their butts off.

I never stopped being a news junkie and I still love newspapers. I’ve been reading at least one daily newspaper almost every day since I was in my 20s. Even now, after the vast majority of readers have discontinued their subscriptions, I still get two newspapers – the Wall Street Journal and the Florida Times-Union – delivered to the end of my driveway every morning. To me, there just aren’t many things better than sipping a cup of coffee while reading a newspaper in the morning. 

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