The little paperboy

By Alannah Allbrett

   In days of yore, the paperboy on the corner was the way people got their news – a bygone era in American history. The cries of “Extra, extra, read all about it” are more cartoon lore, distant memory, or relegated to old movies.

   In big cities, the scrappy paperboy, in a flat cap, was the mainstay of news who announced such important events as Presidential elections, the attack on Pearl Harbor, the sinking of the Titanic, and ‘VE Day’ victory for Allies in World War II.

   In small towns, the paperboy, riding a bike route with a bag around his neck or a basket crammed with papers was a common part of Americana. The paper carrier job was often the first job a youngster held. It was a low paying, get-up-with-the-roosters type job where they had to go after collections as well as make the deliveries.

   More recently, if a boy or girl delivered papers, usually that meant other family members subbed when the child was unable to make the route, or parents transported papers by car in bad weather. Still, with all its hardships it was often an opportunity for kids to make money, learn business skills, and perhaps buy a new bike or help out with family expenses.

   Many famous people had their first start in business as paper boys. According to MSNBC, President Truman, actors John Wayne and bob Hope, and baseball star Willie Mays all had paper routes when they were young. So did TV journalist Tom Brokaw, cartoon great Walt Disney and investment whiz Warren Buffett.

   Nowadays, the paperboy has gone the way of the milkman and the bread truck. With the onset of internet newspapers, daily, 24 hour news networks like CNN and MSNBC, Americans are used to getting their news instantly and on demand on iPods and cell phones.

   According to the Newspaper Association of America, as recently as 1994, more than half of newspaper carriers – 57 percent, were under the age of 18.

   Modern newspapers have shifted over to hiring adults as independent contractors, handling routes with the “drive ‘n toss” method. Gone is the day of knowing who delivered your paper if you, indeed, still get delivery. And billing is done electronically. Employment laws, and the concern for protecting unescorted minors, have also forced newspapers to rely more on adult help.

   In an article entitled The Invention of the Paperboy, by Richard Armstrong, he cites that, “By WWII, the paperboy was such a common figure in America that the Treasury Department authorized them to sell War II Savings Stamps. By war’s end, they’d sold $1.7 billion worth.”

   The Post Office issued a commemorative stamp making the paperboy an official U.S. icon called “Standard Bearers of Free Enterprise.” In the U.S., September 4, Newspaper Carrier Day commemorates the hiring of 10 year old Barney Flaherty, the first newspaper carrier hired in 1833 by The New York Sun and honors everyone who is now, or once was, a newspaper carrier.

   The Clearwater Tribune wishes to honor all the boys and girls, and supportive relatives who have ever delivered a newspaper or stood on a street corner calling out the headlines.