The people’s revolution may not be a podcast

Ink stained my fingers. My armpits smelled >rank. I cruised in and out of Park Vista Apartments on Sparks Boulevard with piles of the Reno News & Review.

I was helping my daughter Tabitha with her paper route. She’s been delivering hundreds of RN&Rs each week. Last Thursday, she needed help, so I rolled up my sleeves and gassed up my tank. When it comes to distribution, I’ve racked up some experience.

Like many print journalists I’ve known, I had a paper route as an adolescent. Every morning, I strapped on a shoulder bag and delivered the Milwaukee Journal to homes, stores and bars in northern Wisconsin. I made $40 monthly to purchase necessities like the original Star Wars soundtrack.

Years later as a young mom and UNR student, I nabbed a 140-paper Reno Gazette-Journal route through downtown Sparks. My oldest sons, then 11 and 9, helped out. We’d pick up papers at the Bank of America on Pyramid and Prater by 4:20 a.m. and deliver to homes, bars and casinos.

These days, the bank is an apartment complex. The homes have been replaced by the Century Sparks 14. Things change. The role of newspapers has been in flux throughout my lifetime. The immediacy of radio and TV were to have rendered print obsolete. Cable news networks were to seal the sarcophagus. The Internet’s impact on journalism is only beginning to play out.

Newspapers suffer from these info-diasporas. To maintain lucrative profits, newspaper chains like Gannett, which owns the Gazette-Journal, may cut less consequential things like editorial departments.

Around 1995, after six months of exhaustion, the boys and I quit our RG-J route. My kids picked up a sprawling Sparks Tribune route. Occasionally, I’d lend a throwing arm. By then, I was writing and editing for the RG-J and then for the RN&R. The physical act of delivering ink-and-paper artifacts to readers’ doorsteps made me intensely aware of audience: the housewife who enjoys mystery novels, the football coach, the family with Burning Man slogans on its RV. Most reporters, editors and even—dare I say—journalism educators would be well served by an occasional delivery stint.

Last week, I met my daughter at 7:30 a.m. in front of the RN&R office on Center Street. We loaded 50-paper bundles into our cars and hit the road. People greeted me warmly as I replaced leftover old papers with crisp new ones. Many businesses that distribute this free newsweekly are homegrown independents: Butcher Boy, The Book Gallery, Yellow Submarine and Spiro’s Sports Bar. Scores of people pick up the RN&R at Black Rock Pizza on McCarran and Pyramid and at Shanghai Restaurant across from Reed High.

At Northern Nevada Medical Center, I carried papers past an electric grand piano emitting “Strangers in the Night.” A friendly employee showed me where the papers go—atop a trash container in the cafeteria. He assured me they would not be thrown out.

“Everyone picks ’em up here,” he said.

Nowadays, newspaper companies are remiss if they don’t pump resources into flashy Web sites with streaming media, podcasts and other whirring gee-whizzles.

On the RN&R route, I met people who still pick up the paper. Some can’t afford a high-speed Internet connection. Others don’t know an RSS feed from pulled pork. A few appreciate the portable nature of paper. Admittedly, a few practical folks use the paper to line feathered pet habitats.

After the route, I showered and went to Silver Peak Brewery to meet friends. A university professor walked in. He ordered a beer and sat down to read our paper.