Globe woes put newsroom in ‘crisis mode’ to deliver papers

Printed from:

BOSTON — A home-delivery disruption at the Boston Globe quickly deteriorated last week into what Boston Newspaper Guild President Scott Steeves described as “crisis mode” by Saturday night, according to the Boston Business Journal. The critical situation developed as it became clear that the broadsheet’s new delivery vendor was not up to the task of completing its designated paper routes.

“It turns out the Globe had hired a company from, I believe, Mars to take over the home delivery operation and it has been a fiasco,” Globe columnist Kevin Cullen opined on Sunday.

The new vendor, ACI Last Mile Network, formerly known as ACI Media Group, is actually based outside Los Angeles, in Long Beach, California. According to its website, ACI celebrated its 50th anniversary last month. The company, which describes itself as “the largest distributor of print media with distribution centers coast-to-coast,” took over home delivery responsibilities starting Dec. 28.   

ACI adopted its current name last July but the Globe, even in its own coverage, has continued to refer to it as ACI Media Group. According to a company press release, ACI updated its name to “better align with the direction of the company” and “reflect its newly expanded service offerings.”

Newspaper delivery is “waiting to be repurposed to meet the demands of tomorrow’s consumer,” Keith Somers, ACI’s chief executive, said in announcing the new name. He predicted that “once aggregated, this network can literally leapfrog the USPS in terms of better meeting that demand.”

Unfortunately for the Globe, reporters and editors had to be recruited by their union, led by Steeves, to pick up the slack Sunday morning, when ACI’s problems failed to meet the paper’s needs to deliver the product to subscribers:

Sunday’s crisis mode shouldn’t have been a big surprise. On Wednesday, two days into its new distributor’s reign, the Globe addressed three mornings of delivery problems thousands of readers either getting their papers late or not at all by issuing an apology and offering refunds to subscribers who didn’t get their papers.

Wednesday’s Globe report also included current circulation numbers, with about 115,000 weekday subscribers and more than 205,000 on Sundays. According to the Globe, “ACI Media has been building a network of 600 contractors in Massachusetts.”

On Sunday, the newspaper said that 10 percent of daily subscribers experienced delivery problems and also pointed to several logistical issues currently facing ACI, saying the company hadn’t hired enough route drivers to cover all the home-delivery subscribers. The vendor’s new delivery routes also “lack any logical sequence, leaving drivers criss-crossing communities and making repeated trips to the same neighborhoods.”

ACI has experienced growing pains in the past when it comes to newspaper deliveries. In October 2014, subscribers of the Orange County Register, based outside Los Angeles, experienced similar woes in the days after the publisher brought in the contractor, according to a Los Angeles Times report.

According to the Globe, ACI executive Jack Klunder told Globe distribution administrators ahead of time that the switch from its old vendor would not be seamless.

“I said ‘I cannot describe to you how painful it is,’” Klunder is quoted as saying. “I used the expression ‘massive disruption.’ You’re going to get thousands of calls, emails social media is going to be blistering you. The news media is going to be blistering you. You’re going to like where you are at the end of this cycle but you’re going to go through this.”

Klunder said the transition will not be complete for at least another four to six months.

Former advertising agency executive Mike Sheehan, the Globe’s chief executive, said Klunder’s warning was “never communicated to us” and added that the newspaper hired ACI as a vendor “primarily in an effort to improve service” and save money. Yet in a notice on the Globe’s website, updated on Dec. 22, it says “some disruption in service may occur” with the change to the new delivery service.

ACI didn’t immediately respond to a call for comment,while an email to Mike Proebstle, vice president of operations for ACI Last Mile Northeast also didn’t elicit an immediate response.

Silent in the matter has been investment manager John Henry, the billionaire owner of the Boston Red Sox, who bought the Globe in 2013. As of Monday afternoon, Henry had not commented publicly on the situation.