By Nick Clark
The year is 2019; it is the peak of the information age. Data can be shared, interpreted, and accessed faster than ever before by more people than ever before. It is also a greatly divided time. Differing opinions on a nearly infinite range of topics are the source of equally plentiful arguments, misinformation, and antagonism.
In short, it is a time when reliable news media are needed the most, yet, for some reason, struggle to stay afloat. Many organizations have made great strides in the process of modernizing the experience for their readers through the use of their websites and mobile applications, but there is still a significant demand for physical copies of the news. That demand is very costly. The printing process is almost entirely automated for many outlets, but there is still one aspect of the print media experience that has not been modernized since its introduction in 1833: delivery.
Newspaper carriers have existed for 186 years and the job description hasn’t changed since then. Take a bundle of newspapers, bring them to people’s homes along a particular route, drop off the newspapers, return home, repeat.
Over the years, the job description hasn’t changed, but the job itself has grown. As budgets shrank, cuts had to be made. The average newspaper carrier didn’t make a significant paycheck at any time, so it could only be decreased so much; therefore, the only way to save money was to cut whole positions. With fewer carriers taking routes, the remaining workers had their routes lengthened, often significantly, without much–or any–increase in wages. As time marched further forward, pay didn’t increase. There was simply no money for it in many cases.
Fast forward to today. It’s not uncommon for a newspaper to pay its carriers based on the number of flyers being circulated. For instance, a carrier might be paid $0.05 per flyer delivered. If there are 10 flyers in one bundle and the carrier’s route contains 100 houses, they would make $50 for that delivery. The problem associated with that pay scheme is that it relies on the uncontrollable factor of the number of companies that want to have their flyers delivered. A carrier might make $50 one day and $10 the next. As we continue to push technology forward and rely more on it, especially for advertising, the number of flyers being delivered will steadily decline.
The question I’ve started to ask is whether or not we should continue delivering newspapers. At the very least, we need to start looking at new options that don’t rely on underpaid workers and unreliable sponsors. I’ve considered the practicality of drones, but there are several issues with that solution, as Amazon has learned with their own drone delivery program. I also thought about a community box system akin to the ones used by the postal service, but that would require either a high degree of cooperation between news agencies and the postal service or a high level of investment to install new boxes.
It’s obviously a challenging problem to tackle, otherwise, someone would have solved it already, but it’s still worth investigating. If you have comments or thoughts about this topic that you’d like to share, send them in to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line, “Op-Ed.”
Until next time.