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Newspaper carriers feel the pain at the pump, too

No one is immune to the rising cost of fuel. Truck drivers are hit hard, long commuters feel the pinch at the pump, and so do newspaper carriers. At least one Columbus Dispatch delivery person decided to call it quits after gas prices kept eating away at his profits.

It's 2:30 in the morning and David Rodriquez from Columbus is already hard at work. Rodriguez pushes an empty dolly over to a line where several other people wait with their dollies in a warehouse in Hilliard. They're all newspaper carriers.

For the past two years Rodriguez has delivered more than 800 papers a week to his customers in Upper Arlington. But on Memorial Day he slipped in a little note with their Columbus Dispatch telling them June first would be his last day as their carrier. Gas prices are taking a toll.

"It doesn't come out to the point where I'm making enough money to keep it going," Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez, who makes about $180 a week from his route, drives about 23 miles a day, seven days a week. And with gas prices hovering around $4 a gallon, it starts to add up.

Rodriguez is not the only carrier feeling the pinch. Roy Hickman, who waits in line for his papers in front of Rodriguez, said he's been delivering papers for about a year. And gas prices are an issue.

"I haven't thought about quitting, but it's tight. It's tight," he said.

When asked how high gas prices will have to go before he considers a move like Rodriguez's he candidly said,"It's getting close. It's getting close."

Stephanie Campos and her husband have had a route for just two months. She said they're quitting later this month. And Michael Wigton said he'll quit at the end of his contract in July.

But quitting has not crossed everyone's mind. Mark Argiro said he's been helping his wife with her paper route for about three years. While the Argiros don't plan to quit, they do feel the pain at the pump.

"You know there's days we feel like we, we basically work half the day just to pay for the gas," Argiro said.

There also are carriers who say they can not afford to quit their route, even if gas prices cut into their profits. That's Tom Cranford's sentiment.

"Financially we can't give it up. You know, so, yeah, the profit margin isn't what it was, but we still need every dime we get out of it to get by," Cranford said.

To help save on gas, Cranford walks part of his route.

"I load up a paper bag and carry large chunks of the route and leave the car parked because my route's compact enough to do that. But most people can't do that," he said.

Then there are carriers like Mike Temple who are in it for the long haul. Temple has 20 years under his belt and he drives a taxi. So he said he's really been hit hard with the ever increasing gas prices.

"Not only gas prices going up, but also they've switched the system. Instead of the papers being delivered at your home and you starting from your house now they have these big warehouses where we come and prepare the papers to go. So you're having to drive to get to your papers, first of all, and then drive from that central location to your paper route," Temple said.

For Rodriguez, picking up papers at the Dispatch distribution center in Hilliard is the bulk of his mileage - 20 miles round trip every day.

John Murray is vice president of circulation and marketing for the Newspaper Association of America in Arlington, Virginia. He said carrier turn-over had been on the decline since 2000, but it started to increase again in 2006.

"This is 2008, the price of gasoline has gone up and it is a factor. And so I suspect the carrier turn-over from all the anecdotal reports I get and from talking to newspapers on a daily basis is up. And recruiting carriers is once again a focus, and retaining the carriers they have is a top priority," Murray said.

Murray said newspaper owners know gas prices affect carriers' profitability and he said generally they respond. But he said it's hard for them to catch up.

"Here with the price of gasoline going up so consistently at such a rapid rate in such a short period of time playing catch up is difficult to do. What was a good compensation rate or profit rate on a route due to the price of gasoline three months ago might not be that great today," he said.

Rodriguez gets 11 cents for every paper he delivers. And he said the Dispatch gives them some allowance for gas, but not much.

"This week I think I got five bucks. Last week I got $4. The week before I got $3. It just all depends. I don't know how they do it, but they figure it out. They give you a little bit, but it's not a whole lot to actually pay for your gas. Well, no. Three dollars is not enough to put a gallon in. Right, right. It isn't. So I got $5 this time, $5 and something," he said.

Newspaper carriers quitting or thinking about quitting does appear to be a trend. The home delivery manager for the Lima News, Bill Meeker, said he's seeing the same thing.

"We've had some carriers that have come in to either renegotiate their contracts or felt they have to move on because of the amount of which they were looking at living on by delivering the papers," Meeker said.

But Meeker does not think $4 gas prices will deter people from wanting a job as a newspaper carrier; he predicts it'll go the other way, at least at the Lima News.

"I think I'm going to start seeing more people want a part-time job and delivering a newspaper gives them that," Meeker said.

Numerous calls to the Columbus Dispatch seeking an interview about their carriers were not returned.