Paperboy Has Gone the Way of the Milkman
Tuesday, April 25, 2006; 2:34 AM
WASHINGTON -- A young teen riding his bike at dawn reaches into his shoulder bag, grabs a tightly folded newspaper and deftly throws it to the front steps.
It's an image as American as apple pie, but the paperboy has gone the way of the milkman.
Today's papers usually arrive by anonymous drive-and-toss. For reasons including the demise of afternoon papers, a shift to centralized distribution and earlier delivery deadlines, adults in cars now make up 81 percent of the country's newspaper carriers.
"I don't know who delivers my papers," said Stacey Rufe of Glen Allen, Va., lamenting the disconnect she has with her Washington Post carrier. "When I was growing up, our carrier was my friend Mike and his brothers. If you had a problem, you called Mike."
As recently as 1994, more than half of newspaper carriers _ 57 percent _ were under 18, often neighborhood kids, according to the Newspaper Association of America.
As the job moved into the hands of grown-up independent contractors, who don't come to the door for payment anymore, many bemoan the lost sense of community in which the paperboy played a unique role. Also lost is an opportunity that gave children as young as 10 business skills.
If you weren't a paperboy or girl, your sibling, parent or friend was. And if you didn't do it, you subbed for your brother when he went to scout camp. Parents, more likely than not, helped _ either driving on bad weather days or helping stuff inserts into the Sunday papers.
Some former paperboys recall loving the responsibility and sense of pride; others hated the early mornings and collecting from stingy subscribers.
"It was a great first job because I had to manage for myself," said George Rohling, 41, who delivered The (Spokane, Wash.) Spokesman-Review in the 1970s. Like most paperboys, Rohling was paid according to how many papers he delivered, and he collected payments each week. "I wasn't standing at a register, asking if they want fries."
President Truman, actors John Wayne and Bob Hope, and baseball star Willie Mays all had paper routes when they were young. So did TV journalist Tom Brokaw, cartoon great Walt Disney and investment whiz Warren Buffett.
Teens and tweens really started delivering America's papers in the postwar era, NAA Vice President John Murray said. Boys had hawked newspapers on city street corners, and as customers moved to the suburbs, it was a natural fit.
"They were appealing, tenacious and would work in a small window of time," Murray said. In return, delivering papers rewarded kids "relatively speaking, handsomely."