When Newspapers Went From Neighborhood Kids to Strangers in Speeding SUVs

Where is today’s Washington Post?

The Washington Post under Amazon’s Jeff Bezos continues to push digital growth—see Digiday on “How the Washington Post is reorienting for digital subscriptions.”  A spokesperson is quoted as saying the Post’s “subscriber base has more than tripled in size over the past two years”—subscriber base meaning digital readers. Digiday says the Post declined to share hard numbers; in October 2017, the Post said that “it had amassed 1 million subscribers.” How many people read the Post as a print newspaper? It’s hard to tell. The Bezos-owned Post is a private company that doesn’t have to report to stockholders or the SEC. In 2013 the paper said it had 377,466 daily print readers and 568,365 Sunday readers. Five years later are 200,000 readers sticking with the daily newspaper?

I’ve been getting the Post home delivered for 40 years and how they deliver the paper sort of symbolizes the decline of print. In the 1980s and into the ’90s, the paper was delivered by teenage carriers who lived in the neighborhood. About 6:30 every morning I’d hear Nicole, the young girl who lived two blocks from our house, walking the street and dropping the paper by the front door. She had a golden retriever who walked with her and sometimes you could hear her calling her dog Guinness.

In the 1990s, the Graham family replaced the neighborhood teenagers with adults driving SUVs that sped through the neighborhood with the driver tossing papers onto front lawns. To their credit, they delivered the paper by 6:30 no matter the weather. Keeping one tradition, in December the paper would include an envelope inviting you to give a holiday tip to the anonymous carrier.

This morning, perfectly timed with the Digiday story about the Post’s digital growth at the expense of print, the SUV driver missed the front lawn and the Post was out in the street by the curb—a cynic might say left out in the gutter.

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