By DAVID PORTER
Rantoul Press columnist
A lot of people think the internet is killing newspapers, and maybe they’re partly right. But for smaller, community papers, most things we do are not dupli
scated on the internet.
There are various groups, such as schools, chambers of commerce, police departments, etc., that try to build up their social media presence by posting as much as they can as often as they can, but it’s not a replacement for a newspaper.
For one thing, when a school posts to social media, you’re only getting what the school wants you to see. I think most people see the value in the independence of the media.
Plus, those particular sites don’t include news from other entities. And, they don’t take into account all the people who aren’t on social media or how the social media algorithms actually work. Just because 1,000 people like your page doesn’t mean they’re all viewing your posts.
Then there are community "news" groups that pop up online. Most of them are run by people with no journalism background and tend to become either gripe sessions, rumor mills or cheerleading sections. They don’t typically cover government meetings or anything in-depth. They’re not a threat to newspapers.
But I digress. What’s really hurting newspapers is the postal service. We have electronic editions available for some of our papers, but a lot of folks still want the physical paper copy in their hands, and they’d like to have it soon after it’s printed.
For too many people, it sometimes takes several weeks for the postal service to deliver a newspaper.
The local offices are pretty good to us and try to help where they can, but the regional distribution centers, for the most part, might as well be on the moon.
I get complaints weekly from people who received a paper three weeks late. Or they received three weeks worth of papers in one day. Or they received a paper, but it wasn’t the one they ordered and wasn’t in their name.
It’s not just the out-of-state papers that get delayed. If you live less than an hour away, it could still take weeks to get your paper if the paper has to go to a distribution center. I’m thinking carrier pigeon might be better.
I don’t know what they do in those distribution centers. The only thing they seem really good at distributing is blame.
I picture a large carousel like airports use for luggage circling through the room. When people see mail they want to move, they just grab a stack and take it where it’s supposed to be. But if they see a newspaper, it’s like the plague and they just let it ride.
The irony is that we newspaper folks take a lot of work out of distribution. The newspapers are separated into trays, so when the trays get to the distribution center, a computer can read the label and send it in the direction where it needs to go. We use expensive postal-approved software to make sure our addresses are up-to-date and everything is separated properly. The local papers are even sorted by carrier sequence.
If there is a problem with a label, it gets mailed back to us at our expense. Last week, we had a paper that had no label. Our papers are labeled automatically on a conveyor belt, and an extra one got through with no label at all. So some post office somewhere sent it back to me — at my expense — with a note: No such address.
Really? They could have just thrown it away.
I don’t know what the answer is. I once asked for a congressional investigation, but that didn’t go anywhere. My newspaper empire is quite small, but I still put about 100,000 pieces of mail into the system each year and spend tens of thousands of dollars on postage and handling. But that doesn’t get me anywhere near the top of the postal priority list.
All I know is that the newspapers enter the mailstream on the same day each week, pre-sorted and postage paid — it’s not like they don’t know they’re coming. Then we’re at the mercy of people who obviously care a lot less about your newspaper than you and I do.
© Copyright 2019 by David Porter, who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Anyone know how much carrier pigeons cost?