The writer of a recent letter to the editor of a national newspaper declared that, “Today, it’s hard to imagine that the success of a major enterprise selling a time-sensitive product depended on an army of kids. But it worked.” And, he said, “I think I made 11 bucks a week, but I took away lessons worth much more than that.” The 67 year-old, was talking about the paper route he took over at age 12 and the basic business skills learned and social lessons imbedded in the process. Being a paperboy was a contract and for most of the thousands of youngsters who took on the responsibility it was their first experience running their own business. The Carriers, or “Little Merchants,” as the program was eventually labeled, called for drawing papers on account, acquiring customers, handling inventory, keeping track of accounts and collecting from customers and balancing outcomes.
In the larger markets, like Here in Oklahoma City, Carriers were required to contract both the morning Oklahoman and the evening Times. Many delivered the early paper then paid younger ones to deliver the Times. These kids were given the nickname “Jeeps,” taken, I suppose, from the tiny military runabouts of the day. That was where I got my first start. I was a “Jeep” for two years on the Times for the Big Guy on His Crown Heights route. where I already had over 50 subscribers to the weekly Saturday Evening Post and Ladies’ Home Journal. After later moving back to my hometown of Muskogee, I added 4 more years delivering the Muskogee Daily Phoenix.
The ground floor where the – “rubber hit the road,” – so to speak, served as a supporting foundation over my 50 years in the news industry to follow. So much has changed and none more regretful than the dependence on the army of kids who got a jump on managing a business. For most of those times, when “everybody took the papers,” Paperboys only needed to make sales calls to the new move-ins who had not already called-in to the paper. And even delivery lists were no more than Skip Lists.
There is so much more to the decline in the print version of newspapers today; the random variety of headlines that stumble you on to interesting stories you might not have caught, the popup internet interference mentions just a few diversions.
But the slowly disappearing army who were blessed with the early lessons (and a little profit) from owning their own business, they can smile when they remember
“When Boys, Not Phones, Delivered the News!” (Bob Greene, WSJ)