It’s early on a cold winter morning. The sun still not risen. You peddle your bike hard against the wind. The bags on your handle-bars, heavy with newspapers make steering difficult. You avoid the Mastersons’ dogs as you carefully make the first turn onto your route. You approach the first house and reach into your bags and pull out your first paper. You take aim and throw the paper towards the front door. Close! Only 15 feet from the front door, but your second delivery is stronger and you land the paper only inches from the front door. After an hour or so, your bags now empty and limp on your handle-bars, you head home with a renewed sense of accomplishment. You are a success!  Only 13 and you have you own business! Delivery and account collections. You handle money and report to a boss. You could not feel prouder at this age.

The paperboy was an American institution like apple pie and the Fourth of July. I was a paperboy growing up and nothing made me prouder. Not only did it install a sense of pride and accomplishment, but also taught me valuable lessons on business practices and responsibility. It was a bridge from being a child to being an adult. Chances are, if you are over the age of 30, you also shared in the experience of being a paperboy. Outside of being a boy-scout, being a paperboy was an important part of growing up. Learning to be a man. Learning to be an adult.

But alas, much like the dial phone, visiting the library and customer service, the paperboy seems to be lost to the annals of history. No more do you see the young man throwing papers. No more monthly door-to-door collections. No more tips and gifts on the holidays. Now the young kids seem to have nothing to do but play Nintendo or hang out on the corner with other kids that also have nothing to do. Too bad.

So what happened? There is no real, one answer to this question. There seems to be several things that came together to kill off the paperboy.

Money, always seems to be the answer for these types of questions. And I believe it plays a big part in this scenario as well. With the advent of the internet, more and more people where getting their news on-line. Newspapers feeling the financial pinch started cutting back. They cut back afternoon deliveries and began to hire out third party delivery companies. According the Newspaper Association of America, as recently as 1994, 57% of newspaper carriers were under the age of 18.  Now a days, 81% of newspaper carries are adults in cars. In larger cities, this percentage is much higher.

Another reason that contributed to the death of the paperboy may be safety. Having a child riding alone on their bike, much less the door-to-door collections is a real cause for concern. 20 years ago, nobody thought about the possible safety concerns.

I remember, as a child, collecting from my customers. The loud threats of an obese, sweaty man refusing to pay me because his paper was on his driveway and he actually had to walk outside to get it (and possibly burn off a calorie or two), and the occasional customer that would answer their door nude. Yikes! But there was never a concern about real physical safety. With, of course, the exception of the occasional dog. But this has changed. There is the real danger of physical harm from angry customers or other kids. And it seems like we cannot let one day go by without hearing about another kidnapping or kidnapping attempt.

It really is too bad. Being a paperboy was a rite of childhood. Even if you weren’t a paperboy, chances are that you knew one. And often times you would sub in for them when they were sick or out of town. It was a great first job and really prepared you for the responsibility of being an employed adult for the years to come. It could be said that many famous hard working people got their ethics from being a paperboy. People such as President Truman, John Wayne, Bob Hope, and baseball star Willie Mays all were paperboys when they were young. So did Warren Buffett, Tom Brokaw and Walt Disney.

The paperboy also installed a sense of community. Everybody knew the paperboy. As you would ride your bike along your route, people would wave at you as you went by. Perhaps, the older woman on your route would flag you down to give you a bag of homemade cookies. Everybody knew your name. Not anymore, now the papercarrier speeds precariously through the neighborhoods in the pre-dawn hours, chucking the papers half-hazardly out of their windows and into your flower bed. Chances are you have never even see them, much less know their name.  With a paperboy, if you had a problem, you knew who he was and could rectify the issue. Now, if there is a problem, good luck. If you call the newspaper, chances are that they can not or will not tell you the name of the delivery service much less the name of the person that crashed his car into your trash can while throwing the newspaper paper onto your roof.

There may be another issue that has contributed to the death of the paperboy. And that may be the sense of entitlement that so many of our youth seem to display these days. Why work so hard for a couple of extra dollars when money is so available? Parents throw money at their kids to keep them happy and give them “what we didn’t have as a child”.  Kids carry expensive cell phones and computer tablets around with them. Where did they get them? Did they scrape and save like we did when we were young? They drive nice cars and have expensive clothing. How? Entitlement. And unfortunately that sense of entitlement follows them into their adult life. But that is for another blog at another time.

So, goodbye paperboy. You will forever hold a special place in my heart.

Oh…and by the way…….has anybody seen  the milkman?

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