June 18, 2023
By Arthur H. Gunther III
Every profession has its “holy mission,” its reason for being. The brother/sisterhood involved are family that get the work done, almost always in net pride. We can all complain in the daily task about bosses, work loads, unfairness, but this is in family too, however right or wrong. In the end, results.
In my own workplace – I am a retired newspaperman – the great irreverence needed to secure skepticism, to not trust the political landscape, for example, is a must if scribes and photogs and editors are to ferret out information that literally informs democracy, that is freedom’s lifeblood.
Supporting that “holy mission,” however flawed the messenger, are those who put newspapers together in composition, printing and delivery. Jack Sutter, my former boss as general manager of the former Rockland Journal-News in Nyack, N.Y., told us over and over that while all of the jobs in newspapering were vital, none was more key than the circulation department – the people who gather the printed copies from the presses, wrap them and hand the bundles to delivery drivers, who in turn bring the “who, what, where, when, why and how” of news to candy and convenience stores, to coffee shops too. Others deliver single copies to homes.
A holy task as it were, in assuring that news gets to the people. But the mission is threatened as newspapers fold across the U.S, landscape, victims of declining readership, loss of advertising, rising costs, the Internet and hedge funds that buy centuries-old newspapers to sell off assets like printing plants and other real estate.
As newspapers die, those that are left lose their staffs to deep cuts, including in circulation. Delivery goes to independent contractors who don’t always follow the Jack Sutter dictum of on-time, full delivery, no excuse. This further threatens the necessary spread of reporting information to the public.
In Kenosha, Wisconsin, one decades-old store no longer carries newspapers, contending that independent agency delivery is spotty, with shortages and lateness.
Such would never be tolerated by a newspaper circulation department. It would not fail its “holy mission.”
At the Rockland Journal-News, even General Manager Sutter would deliver a single copy if a reader called and said she did not get her paper. He knew that the job had to be done, as in other professions.
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org