The slow death of reliable mail: Apathy abounds in a severely compromised postal service

The postal service is expected to process more than 16.2 million pounds of mail for military destinations this holiday season. Photo by James B. Miller, Jr. / The Dickinson Press
The Postal Service collected $70.6 billion in revenue last year — $57 billion from commercial customers and $13 billion from its retail operations — before the U.S. Senate approved a $107 billion financial overhaul.
Photo by James B. Miller, Jr. / The Dickinson Press

Newspapers like The Dickinson Press have been using the United States Postal Service for deliveries for a few years now.

It was pitched as a reliable and cost-effective option, and many publishing companies across the country sought to stay afloat by relying on the vast network of delivery routes and infrastructure to get newspapers to their subscribers, especially in remote or rural areas like southwest North Dakota. It was an attractive option for newspapers looking to keep their costs down and their focus on reporting the news and views that matter to their readers.

But, in the last few years there has been a remarkable change in the types of phone calls that come into the newsroom. Where once a phone ringing brought hopes of a source of information on a breaking story, now brings only a deep pit in the stomach.

“The Dickinson Press, this is James speaking, how can I help you?”

“I haven’t received my newspaper now for two weeks, I just spoke with my carrier and he said that there are no newspapers for his route…Why keep paying for a paper I don't get?!”


“Our apologies for that, if you give a few moments we’ll hand deliver one to you...What's your address?”

This is usually followed by more phone calls from angry customers, and our own phone calls to the Post Office where we are told that every newspaper that we paid for has been or is being delivered. The truth is that they aren’t, and not by a long shot.

The Postal Service collected $70.6 billion in revenue last year — $57 billion from commercial customers and $13 billion from its retail operations, according to their own numbers. That was before the U.S. Senate approved a $107 billion financial overhaul.

This newspaper is deeply concerned about the state of the United States Postal Service and its ability to provide timely, reliable and secure delivery of mail — our own newspapers notwithstanding.

For many years, the USPS has been a pillar of our communities, providing an essential service that is vital for businesses, families and individuals alike. It has been a reliable source of communication, connecting people across the country and even across the world. Everyone knew and loved their mailman or mail-woman.

Sadly, those days are gone.

In recent times, this essential service has been severely compromised and its ability to deliver has been so drastically hampered that had it been a private business, it would have locked up shop years ago. Moreso, the people who are responsible for the oversight, at both the federal and local levels, are seemingly increasingly apathetic to their mandate to ensure that you get your mail.

Nowhere is this more evident than in smaller communities like Dickinson, or better yet all of southwest North Dakota. Residents in these areas, who depend on the USPS for the delivery of their mail, routinely experience frequent delays, lost packages and even missing mail. It has become a common occurrence for residents to go days without receiving their mail — paid for by the sender.


At some point we have to ask if these failures are tantamount to theft, but I digress.

Our newspaper deliveries continue to be affected, with many subscribers complaining of missing or delayed newspapers. Cancellations, complaints and concerns have turned Wednesdays from an exciting day of reviewing copy, writing stories and connecting with our local communities, into a dreaded rat race across town (rain, sleet or snow) to hand out numerous free copies of the newspaper (at our cost) to subscribers who didn’t get the one that THEY and WE already paid for.

The financial costs associated with this redundancy are not only significant, the hurdles to get reimbursed by the USPS are nigh impossible. It cost The Dickinson Press valuable time that should be spent bringing you the best possible stories, instead of learning the intricacies of every street in town as the bulk of our reporters and staff go about with the Wednesday missed deliveries...

On a side note, I am much more familiar with addresses — so I guess that's a plus.

This situation is unacceptable and untenable, and it is long past time for the USPS to rectify it. These are your taxpayer dollars being wasted, funding a program that is increasingly failing to meet the most minuscule of standards. We need to see a renewed commitment to providing frequent, reliable, safe and secure delivery of mail for all, regardless of where they live — and we need it now!

As a resident of southwest North Dakota, I call on the USPS to take immediate action to address this issue. We need to see an increase in resources and personnel to ensure that deliveries are made on time, every time. We need to see a renewed commitment to training and educating USPS staff to ensure that they are adequately equipped to handle the challenges of modern-day delivery.

What we don’t need is more virtue-signaling commercials about how the USPS are implementing electric cars to save the world, when they should instead be looking for solutions to the rampant problem of not being capable of even delivering mail — their sole responsibility. The USPS spent $100 million on advertising in digital, print and national TV in the last year.

How many additional carriers would have that paid for? What revolutionary new software would that have provided to understaffed mail rooms?


The USPS is an essential service that plays a critical role in our communities. We cannot afford to let it die, (I would say falter, but that horse has left the gate) and we cannot allow the delivery of mail to continue to be a matter of IF, instead of WHEN.

Reach out to your representatives, to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, to your local post office and demand better…lest we kick the can down the road further.

But one thing is for sure, don’t attempt to mail said “can” at your local Post Office these days…they’ll lose it.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Forum ownership, and is simply the opinion of the author.

James B. Miller, Jr. is the Editor of The Dickinson Press in Dickinson, North Dakota. He strives to bring community-driven, professional and hyper-local focused news coverage of southwest North Dakota.
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