Friday, July 28, 2006

What is up with the city newspaper distribution system?

Over the last two years, I have called our local paper’s circulation department probably a hundred times regarding our carrier’s inability to place my paper in the newspaper rack below my mailbox.

Yes, it sounds like small potatoes, but here’s the detail: at least three times a week, the carrier tosses the paper from the sidewalk towards the house, a distance of some 30 feet, hitting either the aluminium door or the railing, which wakes us up and causes our dog to bark at 3 a.m. I’m old, I work full time and I need my sleep! I am sure my neighbours don’t appreciate my dog barking at that time either (he’s inside).

The paper then rebounds down our front steps, where more times than not, it is soaked by rain or snow. Two weeks ago, I found it in my garden – again- wet, and covered with leaves and dirt.

Occasionally, the carrier experiences some weakness, only managing to toss the paper about half-way up the walkway, into the adjacent grass which thankfully, doesn’t wake me or the dog, but which causes the paper to be damp and often leaves sections unreadable.

At the very least, that my paper isn’t in the rack causes me to be down the stairs in my bathrobe, a sight my neighbours are now used to seeing but to which they should never have had to become accustomed. Following this, I make yet another call and a request for a second paper – which rarely arrives. I’m old and grumpy and I need my daily dose of the Middle East same-old-same-old to keep an even keel.

I have been promised at every call to circulation that I will hear from a supervisor and that the supervisor will warn the carrier – again – and that my paper will be placed in the rack “from now on.” Given my regular calls over the last two years, I’m not sure when “from now on” is supposed to start….

On one recent call, I was advised that the problems with the carriers were not related to the city paper nor were they something they can fix. I was also advised – by a circulation department manager (female) that I could change papers (To the competitor? Heaven forbid!), but that the carrier would be the same guy, so it wouldn’t change anything and that I should perhaps “Just deal with it.” Said ‘manager’ also noted that because I hadn’t called once in the preceding month, that it looked like mine was a new complaint so there wasn’t much priority for my issue.

In the last two years, I have only once heard from the supervisor. That supervisor chose to burden me with woes about his employees, none of which problems I could fix for him. He didn’t respond to my request that his carrier just put the paper in the rack. No solution was offered to me, nor was any compensation provided.

This morning, I placed what seems like the millionth call to the city paper’s circulation department, due to a paper that had been tossed on my stairs and then soaked-through by rain. I got the same platitudes and empty promises that the situation will be dealt with and a supervisor will call and bla de bla de bla. The promised replacement paper (“Yes, we can see that it is there within a half hour.”) has not arrived (I called today at 8:10 a.m. approximately and it is now 10:30 a.m.); no call from the supervisor has ensued and frankly, I’m doubtful it will.

The call centre indicated they were very busy today due to wet papers, most of which will have to be redelivered. I cannot imagine the cost of redelivering papers to a city of 1 million – according to the paper this week, that’s how many we are….

Well, here’s how you fix this problem:

  • Insist that carriers place papers in the newspaper racks, or at least in a location that is sure to remain dry, at EACH home, no exceptions.
  • Advise the carriers that their pay will be docked for each paper that must be redelivered on their route, and that they will pay the reprinting cost of each redelivered paper, the cost of having another driver deployed for the time it takes to redeliver papers on that carrier’s route, and a cost for gas.

I guarantee if these carriers start to see some tangible punishment for their carelessness and dishonourable job performance, it will end pretty quickly.

Delivering papers in the dark early morning is not a job many will take on and yes, I understand that the system has some staffing issues – just like everyone else in this city. However, I am positive that the costs of adequate compensation for carriers who will do a good, consistent job are far less than the costs of reprinting and redelivering papers every day. It cannot be good business to be backtracking every day in a city of one million.

On that note, is the cost of redelivery perhaps the reason that, with two notable exceptions, Val Fortney and Naomi Lacritz, the quality of reporting and the spelling and grammatical abilities of the staff writers are so poor? Can the city paper not afford to hire good, skilled, language-able writers to produce information?

Hmm... makes a person wonder.