'Making the mail'

May 29, 2013 By Steven R. Peck

A new post office deadline puts us under the gun, but we are working on it

Many Ranger subscribers who receive the paper through the mail have noticed recently that their daily copy of the newspaper has been arriving a day later than it used to much of the time. We are doing what we can to rectify the part of the situation that is under our control. Unfortunately, the most important factors are not under our control. That's a problem, both for the newspaper and its subscribers who receive The Ranger by mail.

Simply put, the post office is requiring us to hand over the mailed subscription copies much earlier than it used to. We are scrambling to accommodate this change, but it is not easy.

Not long ago, the post office would accept Rangers to be mailed to subscribers as late as 5:30 p.m. on weekdays. That worked well for us. More recently, the post office cut an hour off that deadline. The new cutoff point was 4:30 p.m. on weekdays. This wasn't our preference, but for the most part we were able to live with it. Although it was a scramble sometimes, we still were able to "make the mail" far more often than not.

Perhaps we shouldn't have demonstrated such flexibility, because now the post office has really put us under the gun. Earlier this month, a new mail deadline was established -- 3:30 p.m. on weekdays.

This, to use the technical term, is a real booger for us.

We note at this point that the policy change was not instituted by any of the local postal workers with whom we have worked productively for decades. We know full well that it's not the guy at the loading dock in the afternoon who decides what time the mail deadline is going to be, no more than it is the Ranger route driver who is responsible for the editor's decision to delay press time until a ball game at the state tournament has been completed.

Everyone knows the pressures the postal service has been under, and directives from on high sometimes are almost as undesirable for the provider as they are to the consumer. They probably didn't ask for this any more than we did.

We know all that, and we empathize to a degree. But this new deadline places heavy new demand on the newspaper staff. It takes a full work day --meaning about eight hours --to produce the typical weekday edition of The Ranger. When not one but two full hours are chopped off the end of our workday, there is no ready answer to accommodate it on our end.

The easy thing for disinterested observers to say is "just get the paper done earlier." Of course that is the answer, but it is far easier in theory than it is in practice. The alterations necessary to squeeze another hour out of our production timetable have a compounding effect with implications well beyond the boundaries of our daily paper.

We have a busy pressroom here. On Wednesday, for example, we print two sections of the Lander Journal along with the single-section Thermopolis Independent Record, before The Ranger. On Thursdays, we print the Wind River News, the Dubois Frontier, and Diversions, which is the B section of the Sunday edition, also before The Ranger. On Fridays, we print EXTRA! magazine, which is our largest press run of the week, and often print the Advertiser, our second-largest press run, that same morning, again before The Ranger.

Those publications have their own staffs, their own news and advertising challenges, and their own well-established press schedules. So "getting the paper done earlier," amounts to more than simply ordering everybody to work a couple of hours earlier every morning.

It's a rare day when we would share such concerns in this public fashion, but we have the right to explain our position. Recently some callers to our office say they have been told by others that "it is The Ranger's fault, because they aren't getting the paper done soon enough."

As we sometimes joke in the news coverage game, that statement is "accurate" without being entirely truthful. Yes, technically it is "our fault" that we aren't getting the paper done sooner, but it is because of a drastic policy change made by others that the paper suddenly needs to be finished so much sooner than it used to.

Newspapers traditionally have been the biggest and most consistent postal customers. That's why so many community newspapers around the nation happen to be located just across the street from the local post office. That's no accident, and it is the case in Riverton. We have been steadfast partners for years. Naturally, it hurts when extra postal burdens are placed on us. Most publishers feel the postal service ought to treat us better, not worse, considering the volume of business we do. For the record, we always have stood ready to work with the post office, and that offer still stands.

To our many hundreds of mail subscribers, we have not yet found a reliable way to deal with this change, which was imposed earlier this month. But we are trying. If there is a way, then we will find it. We ask for, and appreciate, your patience as we do the necessary internal contortions to comply with this most unexpected and unwelcome new requirement visited upon us from the outside.

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