New York — Having a newspaper delivery route has put extra cash in the pockets of Greg Gonsior and Nick Judkins.
It also has given the two boys from Minnesota something even more valuable: a work ethic that they say they will have for the rest of their lives.
Greg and Nick and three other youths who deliver The Stillwater (Minn.) Gazette are featured in the documentary "Paperboys," produced by Jack Spade Films. The film began as "a curious look" at the state of the local paper route, according to the production company, and it ended up as an intimate look at an American institution and rite of passage.
"We found out that paperboys are good kids. They are responsible, have good values and have an innocence and actually being a paperboy might be a factor," says Andy Spade, the movie's creative director.
He adds, "Kids gain value from all experiences, including the responsibility of being somewhere every day to do something."
The key is having a job, being committed to a job and keeping the job, says Spade, whether it's delivering the paper, baby-sitting or taking on tasks at a family business.
A dying breed?
Spade's own day job is in New York working with wife Kate Spade at their fashion accessories company. As a kid, he'd fill in for his paperboy friends when they were sick or on vacation.
Greg, 15, says his experience as a paperboy has been so positive that he hopes his own children will follow in his footsteps, if the job still exists. In a recent phone interview, Greg expressed concern that the adults driving the big trucks who already deliver the big dailies literally at the crack of dawn will eventually take over the routes of even small-town papers.
(In the film, one of the boys makes the prediction that in 50 years papers will be delivered by a futuristic tube system.)
But Beth Ecker, Greg's mother, has a newsflash of her own. "The community would rather have papers delivered even a little early or a little late than have it come from an adult in the car."
She says when Greg started his paper route almost four years ago, the family was fairly new to town. Now Greg knows just about everyone, and she frequently hears from his customers about his professionalism and dedication.
Ecker was impressed by her son when he took the initiative and wrote to all his customers explaining a delay in the delivery of papers when the Gazette moved its presses farther away.
"It (the job) jump-started my motivation for my work ethic, and since I'm getting paid for it, it's even more important," Greg says.
Among the lessons he's learned are responsibility and sacrifice.
"Sometimes I couldn't make plans with friends because I have to go home to do deliver papers ... but it's getting me ready for when I work all day."
Greg envisions a career in medicine, possibly specializing in cardiovascular work, surgery or pediatrics. In the more immediate future, he is planning to take a job at the local marina on the St. Croix River and pass along some of his paper-delivery duties to his 10-year-old sister Christine.
A family tradition
For the Judkinses, the paper route has been in the family for years. Twelve-year-old Nick, who until now has delivered only a special edition on Wednesdays, soon will take over the full-time route for brother Phillip, 14, who had inherited the job from his cousins.
Money likely was the original motivating factor in her sons taking the route, says their mother, Linda, but she also has seen the job teach them time management, diplomacy and customer service.
And since the delivery route takes only about 30 minutes after school, the job isn't so overwhelming that it takes the kids away from their homework or playtime.
"Most of the time Nick looks forward to it. Of course there are some days he'd rather not go out there and deliver papers. He'll say it's too cold, too hot," says Linda Judkins.
Nick, however, likes to do his deliveries in the snow. "I like to run into the snowbanks."
In the winter, Nick does his work on foot, and until recently, he did warm-weather deliveries on his inline skates. Those have been replaced by his new bike paid for with his paper-route money.
Nick says he's so committed to his work that he'd only call in sick if he were so weak that he couldn't walk. So far that hasn't happened.
In fact, he says he's only missed his deliveries when he went on a family vacation and he already had arranged for a friend to fill in.
Spade says he couldn't have been more pleased with what he found in Stillwater. The kids are earning money, taking their work seriously, getting pride out of it, and, in their down time, they are enjoying being young in middle America building forts, riding bikes and, yes, playing Nintendo. Spade was surprised, however, that they listened to rap music, which he thought was more of an urban favorite.
"For the boys in the film ... we wanted innocence, intelligence, a sense of humor. And they were incredibly likable," says Spade.
So far, "Paperboys" has been screened in New York and featured in film festivals. Spade says he's still looking for a vehicle for wider distribution, possibly on cable television.