My first job was delivering the news.
By that I mean literally tossing a newspaper onto a front porch, or occasionally a roof or shrub. I was a paperboy, an occupation that once was populated by many adolescents but is now almost non-existent.
The paperboy, or the gender-neutral newspaper carrier, has largely gone the way of the milkman and the Avon Lady, anachronisms of an earlier time.
My first paper route was delivering a free circulation paper. My route consisted of about 120 homes, and since every house on a given street received the paper gratis, twice a week, the deliveries were mostly door-to-door, which made for an efficient use of my sneakers. A 100-plus papers were a little impractical to deliver on a bike.
But then the Holy Grail of news delivery became available in my neighborhood: A paid- circulation route. I could earn the same pay delivering about 30 papers as I did dispatching four times as many the freebie. And 30 papers could easily be delivered by bicycle.
I had to make collections on this route but just once a month. There were a few perks to making personal collections. Most people gave me a tip, which would often boost my take-home pay by 50%.
There was one lady who always paid me with silver Mercury dimes, coins minted until the 1940s, made of silver. I wasn’t sure if she considered them simply spare change around the house, so after a few collections I felt I should mention to her that the worth of the coins she gave me was about four times the face value. She said she knew, praised me for my honesty and gave me a few extra to make the point.
I tried to be punctual with my collections because if I didn’t collect, I didn’t get paid. One elderly lady always seemed to anticipate my visits and often had cookies for me. She seemed to enjoy talking at length. It was only much later that it dawned on me that I was probably one of the few people she had to talk to, and I was grateful that I hadn’t let my youthful impatience show.
Then came Christmastime and the real tips! I made my first major purchase with my own money: A bowling bowl! And a matching case!
The demise of most afternoon newspapers has left few jobs for young entrepreneurs of newsprint. Most home deliveries are made by adults in the pre-dawn hours, and that is slipping away, too, as more and more people shun physical newspapers and opt for online news sources.
I suppose I’m a party to that shift as well. My career in journalism started with the same paper I delivered. I moved on to bigger papers, then national magazines, and I was there at the dawn of the internet.
One day my boss came up to me and said, “Phalon, I want you to be a presence on the internet for us!”
“Can do, boss!” I enthusiastically responded.
So, I went home that night and asked my 5-year-old son, “What’s the internet and how do I establish a presence on it?” He’s almost 30 now and still knows more about the internet than I do.
I retired after launching many newspaper and magazine websites, and Rose and I moved to Warren County for a quiet lifestyle. But then just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in!
And here I am delivering news again for The Ridge View Echo. Though not on a bicycle.
Joe Phalon, Contributing Writer
Joe was lured out of retirement by the opportunity to be a part of the Ridge View Echo. During a decades-long career in publishing and journalism, he has covered government on many levels from local school boards to the United States Supreme Court.
Along the way, Joe has worked at American Lawyer Magazine, The National Law Journal and The Record among other publications, and as the Press Officer of Columbia Law School. His work has been recognized with several first place awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the New Jersey Press Association.
Being part of the Ridge View Echo brings Joe back to his roots and the kind of news coverage he loves: Telling the stories of people and local communities as well as keeping an eye on how their money is spent by their government officials.
Joe lives in Blairstown with his wife Rose, the founder of Quilting for a Cause, and their two wiener dogs. He is an artist in his spare time.