Welcome to the bungle

Four-minute read

The Boston Globe, faced with a week of problems with its home delivery, saw members of the newsroom band together and go out in the cold early-morning hours to deliver papers.

It’s a heartwarming tale, just like an Amish barn raising!

For newsroom staff a one-night only adventure in the delivery department with its giant clackety machines seemed to be a lot of fun. The Globe’s story shows the plucky substitute crew having wacky adventures as they fulfill orders.

Having newsroom people work as delivery drivers seems an extreme step. But the Sunday paper and its advertising circulars is the last truly lucrative bastion of the print business. Many customers take the Sunday paper for that reason only.

Despite all the signs of a major cock-up that led up to this, The Globe’s reporting on the whole affair has a slight whiff of propaganda happy talk about it. Lots of promises that management is on the ball, that efforts are being made, that it’s all being done in good faith. Look how hard we’re working! Just the spin a beleaguered business would want in such a situation.

It’s definitely not the kind of transparency The Globe – or any news organization - demands from others in positions of power and responsibility. Here’s CNN reporting on it with the same gee whiz, upbeat tone. The New York Times is much the same.

The whole affair was set off by the hiring of ACI Media Group to handle routes and delivery of the paper. According to the Globe this required the hiring of 600 new drivers to cover the routes.

So, what happened to the drivers who used to handle routes? Were they fired? It would be nice to know. According to a report “some drivers are joining from the prior vendor.” How many? Clearly not enough.

The Globe CEO, Mike Sheehan describes it as “a change we had to make.” Why? Again it would be nice to know.

Although a best guess would be to save money.

Working as a delivery driver is not a lucrative business. My cousin delivered my hometown paper for more than 20 years. To do so, they have to get up in the middle of the night, regardless of weather, to deliver. Globe delivery still got the paper out in the midst of last year’s Snowpocalypse.

These drivers, in most cases, are not newspaper employees. They’re independent contractors who get no insurance, vacation, sick days, disability, minimum wage or other workplace protections.

They put tens of thousands of miles a year on their car, and to make any real money a driver has to cover more than one route. Many delivery drivers also have more than one job. If newspaper drivers worked for other businesses such as Uber1 or Walmart, editorial boards would drop their Thomas Piketty books to the floor and fall onto their fainting couches like Tallulah Bankhead.

If the workers were indeed laid off, The Globe can keep its hands clean2 because they merely changed vendors.

The situation seems to be this: A prominent local business threw a bunch of working-class people out of work Christmas week in order to save money and as a result their entire delivery system – a fundamental part of their business – shat the bed. Some might consider that a well-deserved comeuppance.

If this were Uber or Walmart, The Globe would be beating the bushes for a laid-off single mom with a handicapped child so they could write a three-hanky weeper to put on Page One. If that sounds cynical to you, well, I guess you’ve never been in a news meeting.

It certainly wouldn’t have the upbeat tone of Mickey and Judy put on a show in a barn.

Note I worked at The Globe from 2012-2014. My one year quitiversary is this week.

  1. I always ask my Uber driver if they like their job. The answer I always get is some variation of “I love it.”
  2. Not that The Globe worries about firing people in a dickish way. A favorite tactic I saw was to fire someone on a Friday afternoon and have their replacement show up on Monday morning.