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Is It Time to End the Charade of Newspaper Home Delivery?

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For the record, I was an ink-stained wretch, a reporter and editor. I love almost nothing more than sitting over my morning coffee, newspaper spread before me. It's not just a habit; it's how I've eaten breakfast for as long as I can remember.

But for that to happen, the paper has to arrive, on time, in one piece. And newspaper deliveries have gotten so lackadaisical that maybe it's time to put the ever-dwindling number of loyal readers out of their misery. To put them on notice to buy the latest smartphones so that they, too, can thumb their way through headlines and spend their days texting friends.

Take this weekend. There was lots of news, one of the biggest snowstorms on record. Only I couldn't read about it in print. On a weekend when at one point 400,000 customers in Massachusetts alone were without power, neither the Globe nor the New York Times delivered my morning newspapers. Nor did anyone send or leave a message of apology or explanation or credit. Nope. When I finally reached someone working for Times delivery in Des Moines, Iowa, she said she wasn't "100 percent sure" why the paper hadn't arrived, but added that she thought I would get one on Monday.

It's bad enough that much-shrunken newspapers, having shed staff, are sloppier with the facts. It's even worse that they don't seem terribly concerned whether or not your paper even shows up.

The sorry state of newspapers, of course, is a well-chronicled saga. The Christian Science Monitor made headlines four years ago when, after a century, it ended its daily print publication. A year and a half ago, the New Orleans Times-Picayune created a stir when it cut back to publishing three days a week. Still other newspapers, particularly those owned by the Newhouse chain, soon followed suit -- including those in Syracuse.N.Y..; Harrisburg, Pa.; and Birmingham and Mobile, Ala.

Still, until this weekend, I felt pretty confident that I'd be able to get home delivery of at least my New York Times for years to come. It's a national newspaper, after all. And I figured someone would be left standing in print. But with service like this, I'm no longer sure.

Granted. Nemo did dump more than 2 feet in the Boston area between about noon Friday and early afternoon Saturday. So I could understand when neither the Times nor Globe were delivered Saturday morning.

It crossed my mind that these newspaper companies had missed a golden opportunity, if not at my house, then at the hundreds of thousands without power, where for once neither the Internet, nor TV, nor radio could deliver the news faster. I'd have delivered free copies in cities like Quincy with widespread power outages. But I was too busy shoveling snow to call for mine.

Sunday broke sunny. The roads were clear. So was my patio. But no one had thrown a newspaper on it.

"Can you call the Times and Globe, and see what's going on?" I asked Kathy as I bundled up to take our goldie, Murphy, for his morning walk.

When I returned, she told me a robotic voice had told her we'd get our papers by noon because of unspecified delivery issues.

Noon passed. No papers. I called again shortly after 1 p.m. An automated voice at the Globe said its offices were closed, but led me through a maze of buttons to one offering a credit for missed delivery. At the Times 800 number, I reached a human being. She said we wouldn't be getting Sunday's paper and might -- might -- get Monday's.

I hung up. I stewed. Then I called back. This time I was connected to Tonyae in Des Moines.

"Why," I asked her, "can't the New York Times deliver at a time it's really needed, when 400,000 are without power and can't read online?"

"I can check on that for you," she said. She then asked if I'd like a credit for my Sunday paper or if I wanted it delivered on Monday. She also said she'd not heard of any Monday problems.

That's when I got cranky. Back in the day, I told her, the newspaper for which I worked, the San Jose Mercury News, produced and delivered a newspaper the very day after the Loma Prieta earthquake rocked the Bay Area. We served our readers. And the fact that we were able to probably had a lot to do with the staff winning a Pulitzer Prize. Surely the esteemed New York Times could manage delivery, too?

Of course, it wasn't Tonyae's fault. She did her job well. But her bosses didn't. I suspect they believe that in the digital age they don't really have to deliver a print edition in the midst of an emergency. Maybe they need a reminder of the first four letters -- N-E-W-S -- in newspaper.

Maybe it's just not worth paying the $75 a month or so I shell out for the Times and Globe combined. It's bad enough to have to shower delivery people you've never meet with tips in the hope that the paper will arrive someplace near your front door. It's worse when the paper doesn't come and no one seems to care. Except, perhaps, Tonyae.

Twenty minutes afer hanging up the phone with her, someone turned into our driveway and delivered not only my Sunday Times and Globe but my Saturday editions as well.

Coincidence? Maybe. Maybe, too, it actually snowed 31 FEET in Spencer as the
red letters on page A16 of The Globe informed readers. But I doubt it.

If the newspaper industry wants to retain its shrinking cadre of loyal print subscribers, it needs to do better. But that's an old lament. So I think I'll start a regimen of thumb exercises to enhance my electronic prowess. Those skills may come in handy sooner than I'd like.