Newspapers have a long history of employing children. We may imagine Norman Rockwell pictures of paper boys yelling "Extra!" but the reality can be far different. The Republic used to hire young children to gather at 4:00 or 5:00 am on Sunday morning and deliver stacks of newspapers on their bikes. The children also went door-to-door collecting the monthly bill and seeking new subscribers.
The Republic finally discontinued the practice of using children to deliver the paper and collect the payments when a one of its child employees was killed by a subscriber in the mid 1980s.
However, the Republic still allows third party vendors to use children as bait to sell papers. I reported extensively on the issue nearly a year ago. (Scroll down to May 22, 2006). I say "bait" because the children are used as a prop. It's the adult vendor who has a contract with the Republic. The vendor brings a child to the door and the child recites a speech about staying off drugs and going to camp then the vendor asks you if you want to subscribe so the kid can go to camp. It's a lot harder to say no to the kid than it is to the vendor.
Look, this is child labor pure and simple, but there's no one monitoring the vendors. Who keeps track of how late the kids work or their conditions, who ensures that the kid really gets to go to camp? At least the kids in Malaysia get paid. The vendor isn't related to the kid, so it's not like he's walking around with his parents.
I've talked to the Republic Publisher and they know that vendors use kids as props. The Tribune has discontinued relationships with vendors who use children to solicit subscriptions but the Republic steadfastly refuses.
You would think that advertisers would get wise to the practice. After all, the guy at the door isn't really subscribing, he's just giving $20 to the vendor so he doesn't have to see the kid's sad eyes. The "subscriber" is probably not going to be poring over the Dillard's ads.
Naturally, you don't hear about the Republic using children to solicit subscriptions because the Republic doesn't cover itself.
I've been talking about this issue for nearly a year. I've spoken to the Publisher. I've pointed out that the Editorial Board will pummel corporations for their business practices, but when you mention that the Republic relies on child labor to get subscriptions, the Board just looks at its collective shoes. I haven't made any progress.
So let me address this to two people who should care. Andy and Terry are you reading this? Are you willing to take on the tough cases or are you going to stick to indicting politicians who don't get their paperwork right?
Here's a letter that I received over the weekend.
It happened again last night -- the creepy salesman guy using the kid to tell the Republic's 'Big Sunday Paper' came to my apartment door at 8:00 in the evening. I tried to tell them I read it on-line for free but they proceeded to tell me that it won't be free much longer. I then said it was too liberal for me and the guy snapped back with a question of why I read it if it is too liberal. I said because it is the only local paper out there right now. Then he asked if I just wanted to at least help the kid win the trip to Six Flags and stay off drugs. I politely said no and closed my door.
This time around the sales guy was creepier looking. He was wearing a ratty T-shirt, shorts and wasn't wearing a badge like last time.
You are right that they are having hard times. You can really tell they are getting desperate to sell that paper.