Adults eclipse kids in carrier force p.7

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By: Robert Neuwirth The 'little merchant' tossing newspapers from bike to doorstep is slowly fading into history ? replaced by grown-ups in cars.

For the first time, adult newspaper carriers now outnumber youth carriers ? or "little merchants."
According to the Newspaper Associa-tion of America, 207,746 adults deliver our nation's daily papers, compared with 198,642 teenage carriers. And the next NAA survey is expected to show fewer kids still ? in keeping with a long growth in the number of adult carriers.
"Paperboys? I remember them, once upon a time," said Drew Davis, associate director of NMC, a communications industry institute based at Northwestern University.
What a change in less than two decades. In 1980, the nation's newspaper delivery force was a vast teenage army more than 800,000 strong. A paper route was seen as a way to teach kids the value of work, of entrepreneurship and of a dollar.
"I always liked the youth carrier system," said Chet Valiante, vice president for circulation of North Jersey Newspapers, publisher of the Passaic, N.J.-based North Jersey Herald & News. "I think it helps kids build character." Even so, Valiante notes, his carrier force of 250 includes just 10 teenagers. He says adults get their papers out earlier ? because many have to show up for full-time jobs elsewhere ? and because child-labor laws often prevent teenagers from working before 6 a.m.
Nationally, newspapers are in various stages of converting to adult carriers. At the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y., where Valiante formerly worked, teenagers had declined to about half the carrier force in a gradual conversion motivated in part by the added requirements of delivering the Wall Street Journal early in the morning, plus several weeklies.
Another factor is that adults with cars can deliver more papers, typically 150 to 250 a day, compared with 50 for youth carriers, according to New York-based circulation consultant Mark Roggen.
Fairly typical, the Harrisburg, Pa., Patriot-News switched to the morning cycle in June 1997 ? jettisoning 1,300 teenage carriers. The move saved money because drivers no longer had to drop small bundles at each carrier's home. Instead, 645 adult carriers pick up bundles at eight regional distribution centers.
At the Allentown, Pa., Morning Call, teens make up 65% of the 2,200-person delivery force and compete for scholarships and bonuses. Though 75% of home-delivery subscribers pay the newspaper directly, they show they appreciate their carriers by adding more than $700,000 a year in tips.
The morning Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch retains a force of 2,029 youth carriers ? all part-time employees, not independent contractors, and all covered by workers' compensation insurance and other benefits. "We are dedicated to a youth organization," said assistant circulation director Terry DeVassie. The system not only builds character in carriers, he says, it also fosters personal relationships between readers and the newspaper, which benefits the paper.
Notwithstanding the myth of the "little merchant," many old-time paperboys bear little nostalgia for what they remember as a tough and tedious job with meager financial returns.
"I delivered 150 papers a day, six days a week, for $1," said John Steadman, who started carrying the Baltimore Evening Sun when he was 13 and now writes a sports column in it. The real money, he confides, was made by the route boss, the guy who coordinated all the kids.
Another former Baltimore paperboy attests to the occupation as a lesson in bare-knuckled capitalism. New York Times columnist Russell Baker, who delivered the Baltimore News-Post and Sunday American as a boy during the 1930s, says one of his earliest lessons was being hoodwinked by his publisher. If he had 50 subscribers, the paper would send 55 papers ? and make him pay for them.
"I rarely sold those papers. I would eat them," Baker said with a rueful chuckle. "It was a swindle."
?(Typical adult carrier delivers St. Petersburg Times) [Photo]
?(Editor & Publisher Web Site: http://www.mediainfo. com) [caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher September 12,1998) [caption]

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