The fact you are reading this is proof that words typed in the long afternoon shadows of a wintry Monday can be read by you on a Tuesday. To you, it is commonplace — a part of your routine in reading the local news. In reality, dozens of steps went into getting these words to your eyes.
Unfortunately, the job shortage you have read about on these pages is impacting us in a way that it affects you and your routine. We feel we need to address it here.
Gathering advertising and news is only a piece of the challenge that we face with each issue. There is a team that produces those ads, lays out the pages, and ships those pages to a printing press. There is a team at the printer that works well into the night to make sure the thousands of copies of this newspaper (and all of their inserts) get back to the communities we serve. Very early in the morning, a small army of motor carriers wait for those bundled newspapers to arrive in their respective markets. Then, they are transferred, divvied up and those drivers, all independent contractors, take to the roads to deliver that day’s edition.
It is no secret: Printing and delivering the newspaper are the most expensive things we do. Paper and ink are not cheap; and we support dozens of motor routes that cover thousands of miles of subscribers across Vermont.
It takes individuals with unique circumstances and mettle to go out in the dead of the night – regardless of weather — to ensure a physical newspaper arrives at every home along a route. It is a demanding job.
So when we lose a driver, it creates disruption for you, of course; but it also becomes a challenge for us, too. We do not want to lose subscribers due to ongoing problems with delivery. Several months ago, we took steps on routes where we were having trouble keeping drivers to switch them over to same-day mail. Instead of going to dozens of individual homes, we delivered newspapers to a few local post offices. Subscribers on these routes are not getting their news first thing in the morning, but they are receiving it reliably with their mail. That model has proven very successful, and we have actually retained subscribers and grown our circulation because word has been spreading that a daily newspaper is available by mail.
Delivering the news to your home or office — whether it is via the U.S. Postal Service or by one of our motor carriers — is the final step in a process that starts at dawn. We repeat the process of going from nothing to a final product in a matter of hours. That is why we have firm deadlines, because if we are delayed early in the process, we have to make it up somewhere along the way. We can’t just shrug it off. Our business model — and our advertisers and readers expect — consistent, reliable delivery.
Which brings us to our current challenge: Last month, after a series of late deliveries and printing issues with Upper Valley Press, our printer in North Haverhill, New Hampshire, we were informed by the printer that the labor shortage is making it impossible for them to keep up with their workload. UVP not only prints The Times Argus and Rutland Herald (and its various free weeklies and products), as well as the Claremont Eagle Times and the Vermont Journal (all publications owned by Sample News Group), it prints other weeklies from around the region, as well as many of those direct marketing inserts you get in the mail. But like us, if UVP falls behind on its print jobs, something gets pushed. Lately, because we are at the end of the line, it has been us. That has meant our newspapers have not been getting into the hands of our motor route carriers on time, and it has meant we have had to find alternate locations to print some of our products. It has also meant certain inserts have not been in the papers, or delayed beyond their usefulness, which is unacceptable to us.
This will probably not come as a surprise: There are not a lot of print facilities in Vermont willing or able to work all night. In fact, very few Vermont newspapers (weekly or daily) own and maintain their own presses. It has been more cost-effective to use larger commercial press facilities that have state-of-the-art equipment and the staff to operate and maintain them — until there aren’t enough people to operate and maintain them.
As a result, we have been in ongoing talks with printers all around New England and upstate New York. It has been an epic effort to quilt together a schedule that allows for adequate print windows, hired transportation, and meeting deadlines that do not compromise our quality reporting.
So, dear Reader, we thank you for your patience. And know that these little papers are doing amazing work despite a pandemic and the challenges it places on our families, as well. In fact, we are producing more products than ever, with both our loyal and new advertisers. We are seeing more people reading us in print and online. We are confident that we have weathered the storm that has taken so many community newspapers. But we do face a formidable challenge in finding a new printer.
Be assured that if your newspaper is late, you’re probably not alone. We are taking all of the steps necessary to ensure we are — like a good friend — here to greet you every day that we publish.
Thank you for reading us, and standing by us, today and always.