Extra, extra: free

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At 12, I fitted the Norman Rockwell mold for a paperboy. My Schwinn with its fat tires was indestructible.

I had a dream route: two long blocks and three short ones. If it didn't rain or snow, I could be home from school at 3:30, fold and flip my papers, and be playing by 4:00. Sundays took an hour because I had to make three trips. The 71 papers for my route couldn't all fit in the basket on my handlebars. And you didn't flip the Sunday paper.

Today, in a suburb of Boston, my paper comes before 6 a.m., delivered by car from a person I wouldn't know if I bumped into him or her. My credit card is debited monthly. No fumbling for change on the part of an earnest youngster, ringing doorbells once a week to "collect." (I learned more about human nature collecting than from anything else I did.)

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Newsday, Long Island's biggest (and only major) daily drove my childhood paper, the Long Island Press, out of business. Its morning edition beat the afternoon one.

Kim Campbell's cover story (right) is also about delivering papers. The routes are the subway systems of some of the world's largest cities. It's the new twist in the competition to provide eyeballs for advertisers via newsprint: Just pile the papers up at the stops and give them away each day. The marketing strategy: "If you print it, someone will take it," comes from a Swedish company. Philadelphia is its first American beachhead.

Giving papers away for ad revenue is not as alien as it sounds. Many formats of news are "free." Do you pay for the news you watch on TV? Listen to on the radio? Read on the Web?

How relevant readers find the news is the major test.

And, of course, how timely is the delivery? A lot better than the papers I was flipping from my Schwinn.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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