End of era for newspaper carriers
After making their final delivery July 3, the West Central Tribune newspaper carriers will have their nights free as the newspaper transitions to printing two papers a week that will be delivered by mail. Other days of the week subscribers will receive an electronic e-edition of the paper.
WILLMAR — About 10 minutes after the last edit is made on the day-long work of sales representatives, reporters, photographers, editors and designers, the massive printing press at the West Central Tribune starts a methodical drum beat as it churns out printed pages for the next day’s paper.
The applied ink quickly dries and in a mesmerizing mechanical process the pages are collated and folded before chugging down the conveyor belt and into the mailroom.
A handful of employees gather a specific number of papers into a stack and place it in a guillotine-looking device — actually called a strapper — that whips a plastic strap around each bundle with the speed and force of a viper’s tongue.
Some of the bundles have a dozen papers and some of the bundles have 50 or more, depending on which route they are to be delivered.
The quick pace is impressive, especially considering that it’s 11:30 p.m. — a time when most people are in bed.
Meanwhile — outside on a warm June evening — Corey Gallagher backs his vehicle into one of the two mailroom garage bays.
Lee Meyer parks his vehicle off to the side and wanders over to chat with Gallagher through the open car window.
Shortly afterward, Carmen Evans, Dave Ahl and Kevin Law pull into the parking lot and wander into the bay.
They trade some laughs and catch up on news from their lives.
Ahl and his wife have a 3½-acre vegetable farm near Atwater and are busy at farmers markets. Evans, who has a woodshop at her Willmar home, asks if Meyer installed the shelves she made for his man cave in DeGraff.
They are all members of the team of West Central Tribune carriers and drivers who complete the process of getting the news to subscribers by actually delivering the newspaper.
It’s a job that starts around 11 p.m. and ends around 5:30 to 6:30 a.m. with hundreds of miles driven each night as thousands of copies of the West Central Tribune are put on doorsteps, into tubes at the end of driveways or dropped off at grocery stores and gas stations, or left at other locations to be picked up by other contractors who make the final home delivery.
Meyer, who is 82 and had a career as an over-the-road trucker, has been a newspaper carrier for 6½ years. “I’m a night person. I love it,” said Meyer, who said he’s hit 40 deer while making deliveries on his 217-mile daily trek. He claims that 30 of the deer “hit me.”
Law, another “night owl," said he loves everything about the job. “I get to take a midnight cruise every night,” he said.
Evans said she started delivering papers in 2007 on foot with a walking route in Willmar and in 2009 took a 136-mile nightly driving route that has included several white-knuckle winter drives, including one when she spent the entire night stranded on the edge of a snow-filled road. The papers still got delivered.
“It’s my job,” said Evans. “People depend on that newspaper and depend on knowing (their) paper is going to be there in the morning.”
All the carriers said the customers who receive the home delivery make the job special, with greeting cards and warm words exchanged over the years.
That all ends July 3 — the last day the carriers will deliver the news.
The West Central Tribune, which was initially called the Willmar Tribune when it was started in 1895, is celebrating its 125th birthday this year.
For most of those years the paper was delivered six days a week — not on Sundays.
In 2018 the Tribune stopped printing a physical paper on Mondays to reduce expenses, with daily electronic editions available to subscribers.
The economic hardships caused by COVID-19 has affected many businesses, which has in turn drastically reduced the amount of money they spend on advertising with the paper.
In response to that lost revenue, starting the week of July 6, the West Central Tribune will deliver just two print papers every week — on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
A paper, with fresh news, letters to editors, obituaries and advertisements, will still be created six days a week and available in the e-edition format. on non-print days
The twice-a-week printed papers will be delivered in the mail, eliminating the need for carriers to deliver papers to individuals on their routes.
It’s another significant change in the newspaper industry, and one that tugs at the heartstrings for those who deliver the news and those who receive it.
The image of a cap-clad boy on a street corner holding a newspaper above his head shouting “Extra! Extra! Read all about it” is part of American history.
Many adults in their 60s had early morning or after-school paper routes when they were kids.
About 17 years ago there were 180 newspaper carriers delivering about 18,000 copies of the West Central Tribune in a 45-mile radius of Willmar, said Nate Schueller, circulation manager. Most of the carriers were kids except for the rural motor routes, he said.
But, as the number of subscriptions declined, the routes got too large for carriers to walk and the routes were delivered by nearly 80 adults in vehicles. Today, the daily circulation is 6,800 on weekdays and 7,500 on weekends and there are 31 carriers, according to Schueller.
In the transition to a new distribution model in July, contractors will haul papers to local post offices as well as local convenience stores and supermarkets for single copy purchases on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Miss the job
While grabbing the bundles for their specific routes as they come out of the mailroom, Meyer, Evans, Ahl, Law and Gallagher talked about what they like about their job and why they will miss making the home deliveries of the newspaper.
More in-depth telephone interviews were conducted with Meyer and Evans.
“I’m going to miss the people, the other carriers,” said Meyer. “Wonderful people.”
Meyer said he’s got the “best” route with the “best” customers. He said he and his wife have become friends with some of the people on his route and have had weekend coffee-time visits with them. After sending his customers a letter letting them know he wouldn’t be delivering their paper anymore, they responded with thoughtful thank you cards, said Meyer.
Evans, while choking back tears, said she wants her customers to know how much their generosity — and that they “kept subscribing to the paper for all those years” — meant to her.
“It’s sad that newspapers are struggling,” she said. “It’s really the end of serendipitous knowledge. You can only Google things you already know.”
Evans also gave a nod of thanks to law enforcement. “On those dark stormy nights, I knew they were out there with me. that I wasn’t all alone out there,” she said.
At 63, Evans said she’ll likely retire and — one to look for the silver linings in life — spend more time with her woodworking projects.
“It’s going to be a change. Financially it’s going to be tough,” she said. “But after 10 years of driving six to seven hours a night in all kinds of weather, it’ll probably be a good thing to get out of the car for a while.”
“I hate to see the paper go away,” said Law. “It was fun while it lasted.”