My Career in the News Business

My career in the news business was on a roll until I outgrew it. But there were valuable life lessons and skills learned. Where have all the paperboys gone?

This post is a story I wrote for my Storyworth project. It represents an installment of a personal compilation of stories I hope to complete this year. While the Covid pandemic has delayed long bike trips, I guess I have no excuse to stop writing.

Sometime around 1960 I began my career in business. I was gladly working as a 12-year old paperboy (carrier) for the Newark Star-Ledger. This was my first job and real-life classroom on how to make money and work for a boss. My boss, the local circulation manager, was Mr. Danz, who was like a coach for a team of child laborers. Along with baby-sitting, acting and family farming, having a paper route has been one of a very few regular jobs that the Federal Government exempts from the child labor laws. 

This was the heyday of print journalism. All families relied on the newspaper as the single most informative and trustworthy source of information. Television and radio, of course, were also important. But, newspapers delivered a long, dependable and regular flow of detailed national, regional and local news that you could choose to read when you wanted. Newspaper outlets were like nodes on the information network of the day. It seemed like delivering the news on my bike was a pretty important job as well as profitable and fun. 

Getting Hired

Back then, most families would either buy the paper at a local corner store or subscribe to “home delivery”. In the 1950’s and 1960’s it seemed pre-teen and early teenage boys would deliver most newspapers including morning and afternoon papers. Newspapers advertised for “carriers” as a way to earn some money and be independent. Parents agreed and encouraged their kids to take on a paper route.

A paper route taught a young kid lessons in responsibility, accounting, customer service, sales and marketing. Best of all, most of time you were independent and on your own as long as you lived up to the responsibilities .

Learning Customer Service

Every day a bundle of 50 Star-Ledger  newspapers were dropped at the curb in front of my house in the middle of the night or very early morning, with a thud. With newspapers to deliver in the morning before school, I would get up early at 6:00 a.m., break open the bundle and start folding or rubber banding each newspaper. There was an art to a simple fold when the weather was good and the paper was of a reasonable size. There was a feel and smell to the damp news that was evident by the newsprint left on your hands.

If the weather was bad, we wrapped the paper in wax paper (the use of plastics bags came years later). For Sunday, early sections had to be assembled with the latest news that arrived early Sunday morning. Sunday papers were usually an inch or more thick so they required special attention and more delivery time. 

Developing Job Skills

The key to a successful paperboy route was preparation and developing a good toss. Because newspapers were so popular your route would usually be in your neighborhood or close by with maybe 33%-50% of the houses as your customers. It was my responsibility to get up early enough to deliver the newspaper before everyone was out the door. Come rain or come shine. No one wanted a late newspaper, one that landed too far away from the front door, or one that was wet. Failure to deliver under these standards could affect tips or worse yet – a complaint to the my boss, the circulation manager. 

The “toss” was a zen-like skill that could be honed to perfection. It required executing the principles of balance, aerodynamics, centrifugal force, wind adjustments and deadly aim. While riding and steering the bike with one hand, you would grab a single newspaper and perform a toss across your body, thus causing a backhand spin so that the paper would float to the stairs near the front door. If done properly it was a thing of beauty and a gratifying experience. 

Driving the Delivery Vehicle

Most of the time my black Columbia cruiser bike with fenders and a big basket was all I needed. As soon as all papers were bound or folded I’d load up the bike and head out to work.

Bad or cold weather could be an obstacle and often would require my father to drive me around in the two-tone 55’ Ford before he went to work.

You had to get to know your customers and often their particular service requests, like where to deliver the paper and which customer got the paper on certain days, like weekdays or Sundays.

Collecting for the Boss

Near the end of the week was collection day. I’m pretty sure I  collected every every couple weeks or maybe monthly. But it was by personal visit to each customer. I would carry around a large ring binder with one card for each customer. I would punch a hole for the weeks paid by that customer as I collected the cash. 

On Saturday afternoon, Mr Danz would come by to pick up the payments I collected along with discussing  problem customers, any complaints that might have come to him and any new contests I could win for getting new subscribers to sign up. 

I was paid only on the number of customers I had and collected. Hey, looking back at this now, it seems like a whole lot like a junior bookie operation – working for the Star-Ledger gang. I remember Mr. Danz as being a nice guy but there was a certain amount of intimidation as a kid  answering to an adult of authority.

Getting Paid

In the newspaper delivery business, it was customary to give tips but papers were not expensive. As I remember it, we earned about $20 to $30 per week between a fee per paper delivered and tips. You would lay out your customer cards and count you money less your tips in front of Mr. Danz and officially get paid. It was enough to be proud and make a small profit after considering expenses. You also learned that no one delivering newspapers was going to make a fortune. But you did learn some business skills, a few life lessons and a way to buy a few things on your own or learn how to save money.

Witnessing the Extinction

There has been cultural changes over the years. What used to be an admirable job for young kid began to be seen as potentially dangerous. Children’s freedom became even more restricted. Perhaps, more was given to them rather than requiring them to earn it. In any case, it would be rare to see a child delivering newspapers these days. Selling cookies or popcorn is the extent of our early real-life work experiences that we permit today.

But, beyond the cultural change the Internet has been the major disrupter of paper-based news. Today most news publishing companies rely on subscription service websites and online advertising. The change in the public’s choice of media has caused print ad spending to move to online advertising and news resources given to online stories.  Meanwhile, the world of home delivery has changed too. We are consuming less print media and have less of a need for an actual newspaper to be delivered.

The Star Ledger in 1960 cost just $.10 per daily and $.25 per Sunday edition at the newsstand – and that did not change until 1980! In 1960 the typical delivery customer was paying something like $1 to $2 per week. Today, the newsstand cost is $3.00 per daily and $5.00 per Sunday with much less content. The paper is now owned by Advance Local Media LLC which promotes NJ.com as its digital partner preferring to promote a paper and virtual “home delivery” subscription of around $500 per year.

That’s a lot of money for the news to be delivered to you. If you chose to receive a physical newspaper, chances are it would be delivered by a man, or woman, throwing a paper out a car window randomly in the wee hours and whom you would never expect to meet. While there are plenty of reasons, including environmental ones, that make the old model unworkable today, there are also plenty of reasons that we should have thought more about what we lost in automating our news. 

Today’s mishmash of online neighborhoods and social networks fracture the delivery of local and regional news. We now have to find where the news is and choose only the news we want. And, our sources are no longer unbiased or represent a higher ideal of truth. Are we getting more information delivered to us or are we less informed than we were 60 years ago?

And so it goes…

My career in the news business lasted a few years but helped me build an interest in business and an entrepreneurial spirit which lasts until today. Today, it seems the only news job a young adult can participate in is creating content for YouTube. That may seem strange but it’s where the eyeballs, fun and excitement are these days. As we move beyond the printing press, let us remember those heady days when newspapers were the boss!

“Were it left to me to decide if we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

Thomas Jefferson
Listen to this story on My Plan C Podcast.

How the sausage is made…part 3

For all those who sweat over the details… Here’s how this bike tour was done. Each time I learn a little more.

This post will answer some questions on how I ride these bike tours. It is a fresh update to my previous posts for my Epic Bike Tour. That tour I rode my bike from Key West to Morristown (home). Here, I’ll discuss the differences in this recent New England tour I called the Reunion Tour from Burlington VT to Morristown NJ, 18 months later.

In last year’s posts of “How the Sausage is made”… #1, #2 – I discussed the following relating to my east coast bike tour:

  • my bike setup
  • how I navigate
  • where I spend money
  • how I eat. 

I applied what learned in April 2018 to this trip and avoided some of the pitfalls. Here’s some of the differences and what I discovered along the way.

The Bike

My bike (named “Silver”) is a custom-built model called an Expat S, titanium gravel/touring bike by Seven Cycles. It is an 11-speed using Sram Force 22 components with gearing of 50/34 front and a 28/14 rear. For more tech details click here. It weighed in at 22 lbs with Portland Design Works aluminum fenders, and Iberia rear rack system and bags. I used 2 panniers, commuter bag and top tube bag. All total about 40 extra pounds to carry in bags. I decided early-on that I would not camp this trip so I did not take as much gear as I did on the Epic Tour. 

All other components were the same from last year except I replaced the cassette and chain and switched to a tubeless tire setup. The Seven had come with the lastest Mavic UST tubeless rims. After testing tubeless road tires and reading reviews, I decided to take a risk and go the with Schawalbe Marathon Supreme 700 X 35c tubeless tires for a smoother, safer and more reliable ride. They worked perfectly this time inflated to about 60 psi.

I realized on this trip the importance of disk brakes for this kind of riding. With the extra weight going down monster hills, the bike was easy to control, even in wet weather.

Comparing Tours (East Coast vs. New England)

The goal of this trip was to ride about 525 miles through the mountains of New England within a two-week timeframe while visiting a few friends along the way. That’s much less mileage than the 1,600 flat miles for the U.S. east coast tour in 2018.

As I did in the Epic Tour, I wanted to do this by transporting my bike to the farthest point of the route and then find an interesting way back home by bike. Amtrak provided a convenient way to port the bike to Burlington without breaking it down.

I still averaged the same amount of mileage each day (roughly 65 miles each day) but each day presented a climbing challenge (averaging over 3,000 feet of climbing per day).  The trip was tougher on a day-to-day basis but at least as enjoyable, due to beautiful fall scenery and visits with friends.

I’ve learned quickly that whether you are a person who likes routines or not, it is essential to bike touring. Doing otherwise causes wasted time, confusion and lost items behind. Here’s some of my standard routines:

My Daily Start Up Routine

  • Wake up – between 5:00 and 6:00 a.m. depending on what day’s challenge is ahead. Normal bathroom routine. Includes applying lotions (sunscreen (at times), chamois creme, glide, etc.), take routine vitamin supplements.
  • Suit up – with usually base layer top, jersey, shorts, leg warmers, socks, gloves, arm warmers, helmet and wind vest. For this NE trip, at times I needed to wear a light winter jacket, shoe covers and long finger gloves for the cold days in early October. One morning started at 29 degrees! I also wore a chest heart rate monitor to monitor physical effort for the day. I purposely wear colors that stand out to be seen for safety for this type of riding.
  • Routine bike check – tires, screws tightened, rear light on and bike computer. I’ll use a front flashing light and extra rear lights if visibility is poor.
  • Check top bar bag – make sure I have flat kit, air inflators, anti-theft lock and chain.
  • Pack 3 Bags
    Pannier #1 – Casual clothes – 2 t-shirts, underwear, button-down shirt, running shorts, jeans, socks, sandals, light fleece. Toiletries. Portable computer. (total less than 15 lbs.)
    Pannier #2 – Cycling clothes – 2 jerseys, 2 shorts, 2 socks, extra gloves, arm warmers, leg warmers, cap, warm riding jacket (doubles as casual jacket), shoe covers. Rain gear – pants, water-resistant jacket, helmet cover, water repellent shoe covers. (less than 15 lbs.)
    Commuter Bag – hard shell bottom with compartments that locks on top of the rear bike rack. Great for everything else and to take into town to carry food back to where I’m staying.
    Includes everything I might need along the way. Energy food, camera and equipment, misc. electronics (chargers, cables, etc.), papers, bungie cords, wallet/money/ID.
  • Install bags on bike – panniers on the sides and commuter bag on top.

My Eating Routine

Huge breakfast was a treat in Woodstock VT.
  • Pre-Ride – eat something light like cereal, bagel, donut and coffee. Coffee is my most important item at this point. If nothing available at start I would search out a place to get something.
  • Breakfast – optional depending on what I’ve eaten earlier or the length of the ride. I have dabbled in bigger breakfasts and then skip lunch.
  • Lunch – optional. If it looks like a long hard day, I’ll go for a lunch. A Foot-long Subway Veggie Delight is my preference.
  • Late Afternoon Snack – I like to stop for Gatorade and some chips or pretzels or nuts. Something salty.
  • Dinner -For this trip, I either ate with friends or went out to a local inexpensive place that looked interesting based on suggestions from my hosts, people I met or something suggested on Google. Because of the area’s reputation for fine craft beers, I made a point of sampling some fine beers along the way.

General Schedule

  • Wake up 5:30 a.m.
  • Breakfast 9:00 a.m.
  • Lunch 11:30 a.m.
  • Snack stop 1:00 p.m.
  • Arrive at lodging 2:00 p.m.
  • Shower / change 3:00 p.m.
  • Ride or walk the area 4:00 p.m.
  • Dinner 6:00 p.m.
  • Blog / email / phone calls 8:00 p.m.
  • Lights out 10:00 p.m.

Lodging

I’ve learned to make the most of Airbnb.com locations for great places to stay at reasonable prices. You can also usually book within a short time frame if you are traveling off-season. For this trip, I used a combination of staying 5 nights with friends and 7 nights at airbnb’s.

One of my main concerns was the weather forecast. While I was prepared to ride in the rain, I was able to plan to avoid a full day of rain near the end of the trip. Sitting out a day of rain means that your schedule would need to be reset for an extra day and can throw off all your plans and reservations. That’s why except for the first week, I delayed reserving the mid-part of the trip until a few days before that day so I could be relatively sure I would be riding that day. I have also found that with a day of riding and being alone, I enjoyed the company of others and the opportunity to learn more about the area from the airbnb hosts.

One of the nicest airbnb’s was in Bennington VT in the main house on a tree farm.

Here’s the rundown on my stays. The locations are first based on finding an area near my route and about 50 to 70 miles from my previous stay, The most important factors are 1) how close is the place to my route 2) How expensive – with all other fees included 3) What ratings the host had from previous guests. Here’s where I stayed and the total cost of the stay (1-person):

  • Sep 28 – Burlington, VT = $81.77
  • Sep 29 – Burlington, VT = $81.77
  • Sep 30 – Mike Kennedy’s – Barnet, VT
  • Oct 1 – Mike Kennedy’s – Barnet, VT
  • Oct 2 – Mike Kennedy’s – Barnet, VT
  • Oct 3 – Hanover, NH = $73.84
  • Oct 4 – West Rutland, VT = $60.95
  • Oct 5 – Bennington, VT – $67.48
  • Oct 6 – Lee, MA = $60.53
  • Oct 7 – Lee, MA = $45.00
  • Oct 8 – Mike Hayser – Sherman, CT
  • Oct 9 – Tom Siccardi – Chester, NY
  • TOTAL = 12 nights, 7 @ airbnb lodging = $471.34

Riding the Roads

Riding on the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail in Adams MA

Probably the most asked about question is what roads I took. As I have mentioned, I tend to use Google Maps / Bicycle routes from one place to another. But Google provides no information on what the roads will be like. Here in Vermont and other places along the way, I was often taken off state roads and guided toward well-meaning country roads. I can only guess that there is some algorithm that decides what might be best for an average cyclist to see and experience. My priorities were 1) to get to the next location as efficiently and safe as possible 2) to see some of the local areas I was traveling through. Google and I were not always on the same wavelength.

My first day on the bike from Burlington, the western part of the state to the eastern part in Barnet, was the hardest day (see more here on that here). With a variety of roads from nicely paved highways with adequate shoulders to busy highways with rumble strips and speeding cars and trucks. This type of trip is not for anyone that panics in traffic. Or, sometimes dirt and gravel roads led to trails more for suited mountain bike. Luckily, the bike and tires were strong enough to take a beating and still roll well on paved roads.

There were rail trails and pure dirt double-track trails in the woods where I would see no one for hours. Many times I was not sure where the road was taking me. I guess that’s part of the excitement of the journey. Eventually, you have to come out somewhere where you can re-calibrate.

One of the rougher roads to roll through. Nice change of scenery but slowed me down. Thanks Google!

For this journey, I relied on Google maps with earphones to tell me when to turn. I normally never ride with earphones. My son Ethan’s friend did provide a route that I did use to get from Burlington to Barnet which did help for that segment. I did not search out other posted cycling maps since I could not know what maps might be best for my objectives. Researching this, especially if I had to change plans along the way would be inefficient.

Electrical power to keep my cell phone and bike computer going was critical. I relied on two back-up sources and every day had to go to back up power shortly after lunchtime. One backup source was a solar cell on the rear of my bike. On that first long day of riding I ran completely out of all power, in the dark, but I was right in front of my friend’s house. Whew! That was close.

There were only three places where I had to actually walk my bike up the hill either because of the steep elevation and/or conditions of the road or the fatigue I was experiencing. While I was avoiding the steepest areas, I think my body adjusted to carrying the extra weight and pacing myself with the hills. It was a personally satisfying achievement and proved that I was capable of doing more than I thought.

Riding the Vermonter

Starting a new biking adventure by riding the Vermonter to Burlington.

Greetings fellow virtual travelers. It’s been a while since I posted to this blog but if you are interested in my latest retirement biking journey – The Reunion Tour – Vermont & New England back to NJ read along. I’ll be attempting to post daily my 10 days of stays and cycling adventure (or whatever comes along). This is the first post of the journey. More background on the trip.

I discovered traveling long distances by train can be a great advantage. Yes, it generally takes longer than flying and you will experience numerous inconveniences due to a lack of consideration for bicycles. But once you are onboard the seats are more comfortable, the ride smooth and relaxing, free WiFi and at least for my Amtrak train today – The Vermonter – a simple bike rack storage so you can transport the bike without breaking it apart, as you would need to do for a flight. And, with my current sub-theme of ecology let’s give it up for trains which consume a whole lot less carbon than the other alternatives. All good reasons to promote train transportation, in my mind. 

But, the most convincing argument for a train ride is that a one-way train ticket is a whole lot cheaper at $58 for me, plus $20 for “Silver” my bike. That’s cheaper and easier than flying (need to dis-assemble/re-assemble, pack/unpack), driving there (need to return with the car too) or shipping the bike to a shop and having it re-assembled there.

Planning the trip to  Burlington, VT where I’ll get off was a bit of a challenge. The Vermonter originates at Penn Station NY. So, I needed a way to get me and my bike to NYC to catch the train. I could have literally rode from my house to the Morristown NJ Transit station then to NYC except for the fact that on weekends, bikes need to arrive at Penn NY before 10:00 or they are not permitted! That would have meant leaving very early. Instead Mary Ann drove me at 9:00 a.m. to Newark Penn where I planned on catching the PATH train to Penn NY. My bike weighs about 24 lbs. My panniers and rear bag add about 40 extra unsteady lbs. making it unwieldy.

My first problem was getting my bike and 3 bags up an escalator since the Newark Penn elevator was not working! I saw a bike messenger just taking the escalator up so I followed. Bam! The bike was highly uncooperative and flipped backwards throwing the bags off it. But just then a woman appears watching this and says “I’ll get you up to the platform.” What! She advises taking the 3 bags up while she watches the bike, then walking the bike up the stairs where she instructs me on where to pick up the next PATH train. Beautiful. She was sent from heaven, I’m sure.

The PATH train continues to Journal Square where I transfer to another train. By now, its around 10 am and trains are getting crowded with me and my bike taking up too much room. We finally make it to 33rd St. Now its a matter of finding elevators you never knew about to take you up to the street then back down to Penn Station. After waiting about ½ hour the Vermonter appears on the board. This is the only train to Burlington. Each day it leaves at 11:30 a.m. and arrives 9 hours later 7 miles outside of Burlington in Essex Junction, VT.

Another elevator ride down is requried to the track #8. Then, finally, the conductor needed to figure out what car had the rack where I could put my bike. The Vermonter only allows 3 bikes at a time on the whole train. 

NY Penn Station waiting room.

I’m in Springfield MA as I write this with another 4 hours to go. Then, I need to reset the bike and make my way to my airbnb stay for 2 nights. Looking forward to getting there and concluding today in one piece. All Aboard?

Afterword

Well Amtrak did its best to live up to its reputation and came in 3o minutes late. We departed the train at about 8:50 and the rest was up to Google Maps. I’m a seasoned enough rider to take on a challenge riding in the dark but it was relatively easy to follow the online guidance direct to my stay 7 miles away.

And, a good stay it was at an airbnb at 32 Spruce St. A few convenient blocks from the city activity and close to the lake but far enough to be very calm and peaceful. Starved, I headed out to a corner “Gastro Pub” to get a couple beers and a burger. All was right with the world again.

Local IPA craft brew to bring me back to life.
The neighborhood “Gastro Pub”. A converted candy store with a relaxed feel and plenty of choices of beer and burgers.