Decline is sad news

FOR thirty-something years I have gone out in the mornings and brought the newspaper in. Recently I couldn t, so I asked a neighbour which of the shops delivered. None, he said: he couldn t remember when he last saw a paper-boy in our road. I was fortunat

FOR thirty-something years I have gone out in the mornings and brought the newspaper in. Recently I couldn't, so I asked a neighbour which of the shops delivered. None, he said: he couldn't remember when he last saw a paper-boy in our road.

I was fortunately able to arrange something, but the man's words were true. In Coronation Street they still have youngsters doing paper rounds, but elsewhere - specially in urban districts - it has been fading out for some time now.

I must confess to finding this hard to digest. Not so long ago, practically every household had a morning paper delivered (possibly supplemented by an evening one - News, Star or Standard - too). Paper rounds were a widespread means of earning regular pocket-money. I was there.

I didn't do a round, though. In the winter when I was 14 I applied to our local newsagent and was taken on; but he wanted me to work in the shop sorting and marking-up the papers for the delivery boys.


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There were seven or eight of them, and two were not boys but pensioners. We had to be on the shop's doorstep at half-past five, when the guv'nor drew the bolt. It was dark, of course. Inside, under a single light bulb, as the bundles for this and that road were made up the boys went off on bike and foot, returning in a little while for the next lot.

They carried big sack-like bags, burdensome when full. One of my school friends told me he'd hung his bag on railings while he delivered to nearby houses; came back, and found it had gone with all the papers in.

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The rounds were reckoned to be completed by about quarter to eight - time to go home, have breakfast and leave for school. How much did the newsagents pay us?

The rate, pre-decimal money, was five shillings and threepence a week: ninepence for each of the seven mornings. That was 1937; in present-day values it would be about �3.75p a morning, �26 for the week.

Delivery was free to the customers, which indicates the volume of that trade. After the war the shops started charging for it; at the same time, legislation laid down firm rules on working hours for juveniles - no more turning-out at half-past five, or half-past six either.

No more paper rounds at all now, it seems. The demand has fallen away. Part of the reason may be the decline in literacy. Between the wars there was an appetite among the whole population for almost anything in print: not so today.

But I know a number of people, certainly not lacking literacy, who don't get a daily newspaper. They pick up what is going on in the world from television, radio and the Internet (which reproduces papers' contents). Obviously it suffices for them; it isn't the same, however.

Having read something, you want straightaway to talk to somebody about it. That is what we did in the time of universal newspaper-reading; just the headlines could provide discussion and argument for half the day at work and in the streets and shops.

The paper a person read was thought to be a sure indication of his or her political views. Daily Herald meant Labour. Mail? Guardian? I know the sort you are. And besides those serious aspects the everyday stories nice and nasty as reminders that most of the people in the world were, as they remain, human.

In the changing climate of information, local papers today have extra imprtance. "Heartbeat of the community" sounds corny, but it is true.

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