WHEN DID THIS ISSUE ARRIVE in your mailbox? We should be asking that question on a regular basis. But plans to measure and track deliveries get shunted aside in favor of finishing the current issue and starting to assemble next week’s paper.
But we do stop and pay attention whenever a subscriber reports that papers are arriving days late or not at all. We check our records and talk with the paperless subscriber. Sometimes there are real mysteries involving out-of-state post offices where strange creatures gobble up copies of The Columbia Paper at night and then disappear. Other times, we suggest the subscriber have a conversation with the local postmaster. When that happens deliveries miraculously resume. And now and then we confront threats to subscriptions that can’t be resolved with common sense and good will.
This paper is printed early Thursday mornings in Pittsfield, Mass. We haul them to our office in Ghent, label all the copies that go to subscribers and drivers deliver them to all 33 post offices in Columbia County. The post office staff take over from there and they do a fantastic job. We literally could not publish this newspaper without the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). But that could change if plans announced by the postmaster general take effect.
Weekly newspapers like this one get a so-called periodicals discount rate. That rate is about to rise by nearly a penny per newspaper. And that’s just fine. It probably should be more, considering that USPS expects to run up a $160 billion deficit over the next 10 years.
But there’s a much more ominous change proposed that’s also part of the USPS 10-year plan called “Delivering America.” This plan would deliberately cause delivery of mail to slow down, and that would have an effect on our subscribers in Columbia County and possibly determine the fate of this newspaper. Why? Because the value of a newspaper is in part its ability to deliver timely information. The web, social media, TV, radio and daily papers all are more suited to breaking news, but weekly newspapers that focus on a particular community or a particular segment of the population also provide timely information for readers, especially if no other outlet is reliably filling that need.
One of the common complaints we hear from readers is that The Columbia Paper arrives too late to plan for the weekend. We agree. Here’s the problem we face. The papers that go to our subscribers arrive at post offices around the county between 9:30 a.m. and noon Thursdays. That means people with post office boxes can often get their copies of the paper that day if they can make it to post office before the lobby closes. And our friends at the post offices often go out of their way to assure that the paper is ready to go out to all the rural route subscribers on Friday.
But the USPS management under Postmaster General Louis DeJoy wants to stretch out the time it will take for first class mail to get from its origin to its destination, going from the current two or three days to two to five days. That slower pace is expected to affect other types of mail, including periodicals. Will you still care as much for this paper if it regularly takes four or five days to arrive? And what will the USPS staff do to stay busy if they have so many more days to move the mail? The second question answers the first. The USPS will cut staff, further weakening this essential service.
We might be able to adjust our schedule and survive. Maybe we could end subscriptions and use only the newsstands, but subscribers comprise more than half our readership. So that’s a bad idea. We want to work with the USPS, not destroy it.
“Delivering America” is a plan to dismantle a vital part of our national infrastructure. Mr. DeJoy, a Trump appointee, undercut the USPS just before the last election. Now he’s trying again to reduce it to insignificance. He cannot be allowed another chance to undermine the Postal Service. He should be replaced as soon as possible.