Sunday, April 10, 2016


Every kid probably remembers his or her first job. It’s an exciting thing. You have your own money to spend on some treat for yourself, and it gives you a sense of accomplishment that in retrospect seems the deepest ever felt. Your first job is your first step into adulthood and away from being just a kid. As a teen or tween, isn’t that what we all wanted?

My first job was that iconic job that seems to make it into all the movies that take place from the Victory in Japan all the way back into the nineteenth century. You’d see them on the street corner with a stack of newspapers in a bag or in a pile at their feet, holding one over their heads while screaming, “Extra! Extra”

An early newsboy
Photo from Google.
Oh, to be a paperboy. It was one of the coolest jobs ever for kids on the silver screen. Reality was quite different, but it was the first step for many kids into the job field. I must have been about 11 or 12 when Rick, from the Circle, asked me to be a substitute carrier for him while his family went on vacation. I was more than happy to fill in. It was a job. I would have money. Eventually, Rick moved on and I took over full-time as a Union-Sun & Journal paperboy.

My route was the east end of Walnut Street -- roughly a two and a half block of my neighborhood. It was a unique privilege to be able to serve my neighbors as I made sure they got their printed news in a timely matter. I would rush home from school to be greeted by a tied stack of newspapers. With a snip of the tie, the whole bunch would be stuffed into a canvas bag that proudly displayed the name of my newspaper.

One day each week, that stack of papers had a little yellow piece of paper on top. It was my bill, and it was my duty to go to each of my customers and collect for their subscription costs. It gave me a chance to meet some of the neighbors that I didn’t know very well before while making a little money at the same time. We had a fairly close neighborhood, so my family knew just about all my customers. It was great when I was doing a good job. If I made a mistake, however, it was a different story. My parents were sure to hear if I screwed up.

Let me tell you, I was pretty good at delivering the papers. I was not very good at actually collecting money from my customers. I generally had two days that I went out to collect. If I didn’t see them on those days, then it would wait until the next week. Sometimes, the people were angry that their bill was so high, even though they were getting exactly what they paid for. So, in some cases where I knew people would get pricky, I’d simply tear off their stub and pay for it out of my earnings. I just hated confrontation.

Despite this, I still made pretty good money for an 11 or 12 year old. I had money to walk over to 7-11 and get a drink or some candy. I even had extra cash for buying either books or music. I would have had more if I were more diligent about collecting what was owed from my customers. I did learn a sense of responsibility, though. I had a bill to pay each week, and make sure I had enough money from collecting to cover my costs to the Union-Sun.

I was the paperboy for the Union-Sun & Journal for a couple years. Then, for some reason I cannot fathom, I gave up that route of 30-40 papers for a 400+ route with the Metro Community News. Sure, it was only a one-day delivery, but it was the hardest paper route imaginable. The Union-Sun route went to a young girl around the corner.

Eventually, my sister had the same USJ route. My brother also had a route, but he carried for the Buffalo News. Bob was (and is) a schmoozer. He was perfect for the job. He’d spend time with each of his customers and struck up a regular rapport with them. He made mad money with his route, and was definitely the best paper carrier in the family.

Thirty years later, the paperboy job has mostly disappeared. This is partly due to the seeming apathy of today's youth. I know there are still kids out there who would love to get out there and interact with their neighbors. However, the last few youth carriers that delivered to my house were less than enthusiastic to have to trudge up and down the street slinging papers. Most of them were driven by a parent to each house to deliver the papers. My parents refused. It was my job, therefore it was my responsibility.

photo from Lockport Journal
Another part of the demise of the youth paper carrier is the state of the newspaper business today. This is actually, by far, the biggest reason these first jobs are disappearing from our neighborhoods. With the advent of the internet, information is nearly instantaneous. The newspaper is old news the moment it’s printed, let alone the time it take to deliver it. Because of this the paper needs to be delivered earlier than most youths are permitted to work. So, the carrier has morphed into the adult carrier with several routes.

I love physical newspapers. There’s nothing quite like opening the paper at the breakfast table and reading the news. I still get a newspaper delivered to the door in the morning. Reading it at the table is a ritual -- one that I probably picked up watching those old television programs where the fathers always had moments with the news and a cup of coffee.

My time as a paperboy taught me many things. I learned how to pay a bill and balance my own finances. Sure, I may not have been the greatest when it came to collecting, but I still paid my bill every week, and had enough money to enjoy myself. My time as a paperboy for the Union-Sun & Journal was a great part of my formative years. I just wish I had one chance to hawk papers on the corner screaming “Extra! Extra!” Isn't that every kid’s dream?

Craig Bacon is an avid news junkie. Newspapers are part of that obsession. So is the internet. Follow him on the Twitter at @hippieboy73.

Next Week: Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, and Camp Dittmer.