My appreciation for and reliance on our suburban press for finding out what is going on in my community have both deepened significantly in recent years.
This process has been hastened by my metropolitan newspaper career fading to memory, at the very time those newspapers fight for survival and seem often to be pre-occupied with major sport, federal politics, shock/horror and click bait.
And, until recently, I was even working on either a regional newspaper (Geelong Advertiser) or its free, weekly “giveaways”, and even (more recently) for the proprietors of one of our three suburban titles.
As well, doing Consider The Sauce has really heightened my desire for information about what’s going on in the greater western suburbs. And I’m not just talking about restaurant reviews – reading the suburban press has hipped me to many festivals and community events, as well as providing information about local politics and so on.
So I am both intrigued and a little disturbed by events of recent weeks that have revealed to me a suburban press “elephant in the room” – how many, or how few, of these newspapers actually get delivered.
Here’s how it unfolded …
A few days before the Yarraville Festival, the festival Facebook page mentioned that there was a lift-out festival program going in that week’s edition of the Maribyrnong Weekly. Someone immediately replied that they hardly ever saw a copy of that publication.
On reflection, I realised this was very true for us, too! In fact, and speaking very subjectively, it seemed at that point like we’d seen any or all of our three suburban newspapers little more than a handful of times each in about six months.
So I made a phone call to register my unhappiness. You’ll be unsurprised to learn, given the way this story is headed, that the nice people I spoke to were and are well used to receiving such phone calls.
The upshot was that the following week I got a door knock from a representative of the company that distributes the Star and the Maribyrnong Weekly.
After discussing our specific non-delivery issues, I mentioned that as I’m in “full-on job-seeker mode”, perhaps I should be delivering these rags my own self.
One thing led to another, many phone calls were made and it was settled I would become a “walker” for a particular area of Yarraville.
For several reasons that I won’t address here, it all came to nowt – I pulled the plug without delivering a newspaper, let alone getting paid for it.
I will say, though, that my decision had nothing to do with the professionalism or competence of the various people with whom I dealt.
But it’s fair to say I now have insights into how and why getting these newspapers delivered is something of a logistical nightmare.
I have long assumed that non-delivery issues amounted to little more than a fraudulent scam perpetrated by the various distribution companies.
I now know that’s not the case – or not always the case.
The people I conferred with seemed to be doing their very best to deal with a complex operation that involves every neighbourhood being drawn up into sectors that are assigned to the available “walkers”.
Then there are the “walker” issues themselves.
Let’s face it – the pay is pitiful. Had I embarked on this new, um, career, I would’ve been paid at a rate unlike anything I have received since I was a pre-teenager. About $10 an hour, I estimate, and that’s if I’d been going like a bat out of hell.
So, as was said to me this morning, “this is not work that suits everyone”.
Nor, I was informed, is it viable to rely on such work for a living wage.
All this reduces dramatically the pool of potential “walkers”.
Finally, and inevitably, given all this – poor pay, hard work, the changing seasons and more – some regular “walkers” end up taking the sly, dishonest way out by simply not doing the runs for which they are claiming payment.
This is an unhappy state of affairs on several levels.
For one, my respect for the journalism and journalists of the suburban press is these days very high indeed.
They are covering – in some cases superbly – issues, people and events that simply don’t get a look in in The Age or the Herald Sun.
To cite just one example – during the recent local body election campaigns, from what I could see it was very much the suburban press that was on top of the issues and what the various candidates offered or were not offering.
For these journalists, and the sales staff who sell advertising space on the basis that their newspapers will be delivered, such non-delivery issues must be extremely frustrating.
Like many of my former colleagues, I got well used to fielding phone calls from angry and upset readers.
For many in our communities, particularly older citizens who may not have internet access or skills and for whom the daily papers are an unjustifiable expense, the suburban press is a cherished and essential part of life.
Finally, and perhaps most profoundly, it seems to me that our suburban press, and regardless of its corporate ownership, remains a vital ingredient of the glue that keeps our communities together.
And, yes, I believe that holds true even in a cyber age that includes Facebook and Twitter.
Am interested to hear about suburban newspaper delivery from Consider The Sauce visitors – good and bad both welcome!