I didn’t get my newspaper this morning. No big deal, I just called the automated customer service line and, after punching a number of buttons, my account was credited (I’ll pick up a copy when I go to work later today).

But it got me thinking, especially in light of comments tagged to a MarketWatch column I read regarding job cuts as the death knell of newspapers. The readers, who I assume are NOT invested in the industry, did not complain about the lack of reporters to cover local events or the loss of experience and knowledge that usually accompanies buyouts of veteran journalists. They complained about delivery…not getting their paper in a timely manner or, if the did get it, not having the paper on their doorstep.

I’m wondering now if we as an industry added to our current death spiral early in the process by economizing on our delivery methods? When we replaced carrier boys and girls who threw the paper on your doorstep with independent contractors who do a “drive-by” delivery on the edge of the driveway, did we ignore something that customers held near and dear at a time when we needed more of that? Did automating customer service … and later outsouring it to call centers half a world away … alienate our customers even more?

When I was managing editor of a small daily in the ’80s, I hosted a “meet the editor” night at a local business expo. Readers were invited to stop by and tell me what was on their minds, good or bad. What I was surprised to hear was that people generally did not ask me why we didn’t cover some event, question our local leaders more, or write more about the little league team. They were more concerned about getting their paper at their door every morning. Those who did had high praise for their carrier, those who didn’t threatened to cancel their subscription if I didn’t do something soon.

As a young journalist, I had pretty much scoffed off delivery issues as the rant of misguided customers. But now, I realize that this is a pretty basic tenet of successful business: It doesn’t matter hown great your product is, if your customers can’t get it when they need it, it’s worthless.

As a seasoned veteran (who probably would be in line for a buyout if my company goes to that), In have to ask: Did we add to our current misery by not taking paper delivery more seriously many years ago?

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