Publishers concerned as slow U.S. mail delays delivery of local newspapers

A person carries mail
U.S. Postal Service mail carrier Rosemary Doyle makes her rounds during heavy snowfall on Nicollet Avenue in south Minneapolis on Dec. 21. Doyle has delivered mail in the area for 15 years. Staffing shortages, winter storms and other issues have led to mail delivery delays in some parts of the state that are affecting local newspapers.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

Mail delivery delays are frustrating a lot of Minnesotans who are waiting days or weeks for letters, packages, checks and, increasingly, their local newspaper.

A growing number of local newspapers have switched from using carriers to the U.S. Postal Service for delivery. It’s a cost-cutting move as print subscriptions decline. But getting those papers into the hands of readers while the news is still timely has been a challenge.

In mid November, the Brainerd Dispatch switched from carriers to the postal service for delivery of its twice-weekly printed newspapers. But soon after, it began to encounter delays anywhere from one day to four or five days, said publisher Pete Mohs. 

Brainerd Dispatch publisher Pete Mohs talks about distrust of the media.
Brained Dispatch publisher Pete Mohs. The Dispatch published stories about the mail delays that included information on how to apply for a job with the postal service. It even offered to publish a free help-wanted ad to help fill vacant positions, Mohs said.
Derek Montgomery for MPR News

The problem seemed to stem from a shortage of mail carriers on certain routes, Mohs said. As a result, the paper has moved up its deadlines to get the paper to the post office earlier. 

"We're optimistic that they're going to get this turned around real quick because our papers are important. We've got important information for the readers,” Mohs said. “But also, residents are waiting on medicine to come through the mail, and bills. So we're really trying to get the post office to work better for everybody."

The Dispatch published stories about the mail delays that included information on how to apply for a job with the postal service. It even offered to publish a free help-wanted ad to help fill vacant positions, Mohs said.

In recent weeks, the US. Postal Service has been besieged by staffing shortages, winter storms and a surge of holiday packages that have slowed delivery.

Widespread problem

Brainerd isn't the only newspaper experiencing mail delays, said Lisa Hills, executive director of the Minnesota Newspaper Association. She said several newspapers have seen delays of more than a week.

"That of course impacts people who subscribe to the newspaper,” Hills said. “News is not delivered on time, and advertising is not delivered on time."

The delivery problems are just the latest challenge faced by local newspapers already struggling with staffing and circulation cuts, as more people turn to online sources for news.

The Brainerd Dispatch is part of Forum Communications, which owns 20 newspapers in Minnesota, North and South Dakota. The Forum now delivers all of its newspapers by mail, typically twice a week.

Aaron Becher, vice president of newspaper operations, said they've seen similar delivery problems in Duluth, Rochester and other parts of the state.

"People want to get their news, they want to read their newspaper,” Becher said. “If they don't feel like they're getting it in a timely fashion, then they move to electronic sources that we provide them, or discontinue their print paper."

Seeking solutions

Small-town papers are feeling pain, too. Chad Koenen and his wife publish three weekly newspapers in west-central Minnesota: the Citizen's Advocate in Henning, New York Mills Dispatch and Frazee-Vergas Forum. The COVID-19 pandemic slowed down mail delivery, he said, but in the past year or two, delays have gotten worse.

"Our local postmasters are great to work with,” Koenen said. “But it seems like the further you get away from our town, the more difficult it is to ensure that the newspaper is getting there on time."

Koenen recounts an email he received this week from a subscriber in Florida.

“On Friday, he got our Dec. 20 paper, and on Monday, he got our Dec. 27 and Jan. 3 newspapers on the same date,” Koenen said. “That’s quite common, especially in the Twin Cities.”

Understandably, people get frustrated by the delays, Koenen said, and some have dropped their subscriptions as a result.

“Unfortunately, there's not a lot we can do,” he said. “I mean, we mail at the same time, same place every week. But really, it comes down to if they're paying for a product and they're not getting it, I understand where they're coming from.”

The Minnesota Newspaper Association formed a task force to address the delivery issues, and reached out to U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar asking for help.

Minnesota members of Congress have demanded answers from Postmaster General Louis DeJoy about what's being done to improve mail delivery.

Meanwhile, Mohs said the Brainerd Dispatch has lost a few subscribers, and some have switched to the digital-only edition. But he said most are hanging in there and being patient about the situation.

“We’ve got a community that loves the printed newspaper,” he said. “I'm the same way. I like to sit and read my paper. I do a lot of things online all day long. But at night, in the morning, I like to just read the paper. And I think a lot of the people are that way in the Brainerd area."