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    Local Columns
    Wednesday, December 06, 2023

    The Day still delivers

    Did you work as a paperboy or papergirl for The Day when you were younger?

    Over the years, many locals have shared their fond memories of rising before dawn to take care of a paper route. Back then, the paper carriers collected money, which often included tips, from customers.

    Now we collect the money online or at our offices, and when readers designate tips for their carriers, they get amortized over the course of the subscription — except during the holiday season, when the carriers get it all at once.

    Huh? When Circulation Manager Matt Dery described this arrangement to me, I realized I still have a lot to learn about this business.

    A reader's online comment about the "colored dots" The Day carriers stick on delivery tubes to designate what days of the week a customer wants us to bring their paper got us thinking about how our papers reach their destinations by early morning.

    To be honest, page views and downloads are on some of our minds more than motor routes as we continue adding digital content to our product line. But many customers tell us they still like the readability and feel of our print products, and we've had many conversations about what for many remains a sacred morning newspaper and coffee routine.

    Trust us, if subscribers don't receive their paper, we hear about that, too, and we do our best to get it to them ASAP.

    The Day's daily and Sunday papers, along with our weekly editions, are delivered to about 200,000 households throughout the region.

    We still employ 16 or 17 door-to-door paper carriers, mostly in urban areas, according to Dery. But most of our customers receive their papers from an adult carrier on a motor route or, in the case of the 16 Times and Shore weeklies we publish, through the mail.  

    Those of us who have been here more than a decade remember hearing, and feeling, the rumble of the printing presses on the ground floor and the smell of ink that permeated the building. At one time, we had 30 pressmen working three shifts and a fleet of more than 30 vans and box trucks to take the papers where they needed to go.

    We dismantled and sold our printing presses between 2011 and 2013 and outsourced our printing to The Providence Journal. We've also found economies of scale by collaborating with the Hartford Courant on delivery, and we now deliver several publications to customers throughout the region.

    Back in the day, white vans and trucks bearing The Day's flagship logo would line up near the garage bays on Atlantic Street as the reporters assigned to cover the "late checks" cop shift were leaving. Papers would reach customer homes long before sunrise. 

    Now the papers are delivered from Providence to bulk drop sites and picked up for delivery by 7 or 8 a.m.

    We still deliver papers to stores for single-copy sales, but you may have noticed that the newspaper vending boxes we had on the streets and outside businesses throughout our circulation area disappeared the year before last. Dery said there were 900 of them at one time, but over the years, fewer people were using them. The boxes also were known as "honor boxes," because we trusted customers to put their coins in, open the box and take just one paper. Human nature being what it is, there were those who paid for one paper and took 10 for their friends. The Sunday editions, with those coveted coupon inserts, were particularly susceptible to dishonor.

    Dery has been here for 30 years, not quite as long as Mike Gentry, our building manager, who arrived in 1977. Between the two of them, there's a lot of institutional knowledge about production at The Day, which has occupied 47 Eugene O'Neill Drive for more than 100 years.

    Dery and Gentry are both fun to talk with, and we'll continue sharing some of their stories.

    (Who else would tell us about some of the wild antics of the former pressmen, or the time someone from the composing room sent a pair of underwear instead of a page that needed proofreading up the dumbwaiter to the newsroom? The dumbwaiter is still here, though computers made it obsolete years ago.)

    If you were a paper carrier, or worked as a pressman or composer, tell us about your experiences in the comments.

    Karen Florin is The Day's engagement editor. She can be reached at k.florin@theday.com or (860) 701-4217.

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