September 4 is National Newspaper Carrier Day, which was created to celebrate the destitute and homeless boys of New York City who ingeniously learned to support themselves in the early 1800s via newspaper delivery and in so doing helped create jobs many adults – including parents – hold today.
The historic and cultural role of newspaper carrier is so important and iconic that it actually gets two days of celebration each year: the first is National News Carrier Day, September 4, and the second is International Newspaper Carrier Day, held during National Newspaper Week, celebrated the second week of October, according to the Newspaper Association of America (NAA).
As a mom, I find many good character lessons for kids in in the actions and innovations of newspaper carriers through the ages.
According to multiple reports, newspaper delivery began with Barney Flaherty, age 10, originally of Cork, Ireland, who became the very first “newspaper boy” for the New York Sun in 1833.
The founder of The New York Sun, Benjamin Day, is said to have given Barney one test before giving him the job, that of being able to throw a rolled-up paper over a bush.
Back in Barney’s day, the ranks of newspaper boys, known as “Newsies” were made up of the thousands of destitute or homeless children in the city, according to The Bowery Boys website.
“Newsies” stood on the street corner like carnival barkers, hawking the day’s headlines in order to get people to buy the papers they sold.
These kids had to work hard to sell their wares because they had bought the papers at a discount, collected them hot off the presses before dawn, and were stuck with whatever they didn’t manage to sell.
Barney and others like him also inspired many of today’s adult career paths as they quickly invented guerrilla marketing and entrepreneurship strategies in order to sell papers to survive.
Today, according to John Murray, vice president of Audience Development at the NAA, nearly 80 percent of carriers are adults, and even though subscribers are now billed directly by the newspapers, 95 percent of all carriers are still independent contractors just like the original paper boys.
The main reason the job has transitioned mostly to adults is due to the evolution of newspapers, both in overall size (including more circulars), and broader distribution. Often distribution hubs are located far from most carriers' homes and daily deliveries include burgeoning routes with as many as seven different newspaper titles being delivered by a single carrier, which make it too difficult for a child on a bike to manage, according to Mr. Murray.
Murray points out that it’s not uncommon for people to have their paper routes for 20-30 years and then pass on the family business to kids or grandchildren.
According to Murray, children who do have a paper route these days either live in very small communities, or are sub-contracted by enterprising adult carriers who have grown their paper routes into small empires by taking on the delivery of multiple title deliveries.
Murray also provides some keen insight into the general character profile of the newspaper carriers.
“These are some very rugged individuals. We’re talking about someone who is independent. This person enjoys the solitary early morning hours,” he explains. “Successful carriers we see are self-starters who can be very intuitive in nature and are problem-solvers able to manage their time.”
The NAA website even includes a Carrier Hall of Fame listing an array of former newspaper deliverers, including business leaders Walt Disney and Warren Buffett, sports icons like hockey player Wayne Gretzky, as well as actor John Wayne, and authors Isaac Asimov and Carl Sandburg, to name a few.
A Google search of news items on “newspaper carriers” yields a host of news stories about times when carriers saved families from burning homes by waking them and saving injured or ill people encountered along their routes.
“I have a Google alert for that kind of story because I love reading about the good things carriers do that most people would never even imagine,” Murray says. “There are many unsung heroes out there who save the day and then go about the rest of their daily route as if they hadn’t just done something heroic.”
Because many homes today rely on digital news via computer, handheld device, or television, perhaps modern parents might want to take the opportunity today to go out and buy a paper newspaper to share with their child, along with the history of the original newspaper delivery boys.
Parents might even want to book tickets for the upcoming national tour of Disney’s historically-based Broadway musical, “Newsies” which begins making the rounds in October.
Parents don’t have to take kids to a musical to sing the praises of what carriers represent in our society as innovators and icons. They could also choose to subscribe to a paper newspaper and have these lessons delivered to the door on a daily basis.