Boston Globe reporters and editors learn lessons from long night of delivering the newspaper


By David Abel  |  Jan. 3, 2016

The newly bought flashlight pierced the darkness, but the number on the house was nowhere to be seen.
            
I hopped out of the warm car and crunched over ice covering the front lawn for a closer look. I peeked behind the wreath on the door, but it wasn’t there either. So I moved on to a neighbor’s house, hoping in the cold hours before dawn to find the right address quickly.
            
It was just then, as I plunged over a modest ledge I failed to see by the driveway, that I began to appreciate the considerable challenges of delivering the newspaper every morning.
            
I was one of scores of reporters, editors, and other employees at the Globe who volunteered last night to help deliver the Sunday paper, after an unfathomable debacle involving a new distributer led to thousands of readers failing to receive the newspaper for much of the past week.
            
My shift began shortly before 4 a.m., when Mark Morrow, the editor of the Sunday Globe, picked me up in his SUV, and we drove to a distribution center in Newton.
            
When we arrived, the first person we saw was Sacha Pfeiffer, a Pulitzer-Prize winning reporter whose work was lauded in the recent film “Spotlight.”
            
She looked like she had seen ghosts.
            
She couldn’t believe the chaos at the distribution center. Reporters and editors were frantically stuffing circulars and newspapers into plastic bags, stacking them on stainless steel carts, and lugging them to their cars, trying to avoid an avalanche of ink in the windy night.
            
An official with the new distribution company, ACI Media Group, was handing out routes, but most of them were – unhelpfully, to say the least – listed alphabetically, rather than in a logical order by address.
            
It felt like a journalistic apocalypse.
            
Mark and I received our route of 125 homes in Jamaica Plain and wheeled our papers to his car, stuffing them in his trunk.
            
We struggled to decipher the code on the route sheet, but it seemed like we were lucky. Unlike many of our colleagues, ours appeared to be organized by address. We soon learned that wasn’t quite the case.
            
For the next four and half hours, we circled around the neighborhood, returning to the same streets, again and again. We would deliver a paper to one house on Moss Hill Road, only to return an hour later to drop one on the porch of a neighbor a few houses down the street. There appeared to be no logic at all to the route.
            
The sheet we received had other specific directions to follow. Some subscribers requested the paper inside their screen door, others by a side door. That meant a lot of climbing icy stairs, a lot of searching in the darkness, a lot of close encounters with growling dogs.
            
As I approached many houses, aiming the high-powered flashlight that Mark had just bought near their windows, I worried about waking someone up. I worried about being confused for an intruder. I worried about getting shot.
            
The more the night wore on, the more I prayed to the journalism gods that the company would figure out how to solve the delivery fiasco – soon. I also developed a deep respect for the men and women who do this for a living and learned how crucial they are to what we do. Whatever they’re paid, it’s not enough.
            
After dawn broke, we met several subscribers and handed them the paper directly.
            
I gave a Globe to one man, and he told me: “Nothing is older than a day-old newspaper.”
            
When Mark delivered the paper to a woman who opened her door in her pajamas, she said hadn’t received the paper in about a week. She was astonished to receive the Sunday Globe from the Sunday editor.
            
“We’re trying,” he told her.
            
As we prepared to make our final deliveries, we had a few papers left. We approached a man walking his dogs and offered him a free Globe.
            
He hadn’t received it all week, he groused. But he said he didn’t need one now. It had already arrived on his doorstep.
            
Globe chief executive Mike Sheehan said the company delivered all but about 3,000 of the more than 200,000 newspapers sold on Sundays. He said reporters and editors helped deliver about 23,000 of them.

David Abel can be reached at dabel@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @davabel.