Sunday, April 16, 2017

How far do I need to go to do my newspaper deliverer's job?

A reader, M.N., from New England, has been a subscriber to the print edition of his city's daily newspaper for more than 30 years. As more and more of the news migrated over to digital platforms that were updated throughout the day, M.N. says he still enjoys waking up early each morning, walking out to his front stoop, collecting his newspaper, and then sitting down to read it at the kitchen table over a hot cup of black coffee. It's how M.N. likes to start his days before he heads off to work.

Most often, even during inclement weather, which is plentiful in New England, the newspaper is there waiting for him at his front door. On the occasional days when the snow footage is overwhelming and the newspaper will be late, he generally receives an email from the newspaper's circulation department advising him that delivery might be delayed. But those days are rare and M.N. remains, for the most part, a happy customer.

Until recently.

For several days in a row, M.N. woke up and found that his newspaper had not been delivered. No note from the circulation department. Just no paper. He reported the missing paper online and asked to receive a credit, which he assumes the newspaper gave him.

On the fourth day he received no paper, M.N. reported it to the newspaper, but then he looked out his kitchen window at the house next door that was in the process of being renovated and was boarded up. On the wooden porch of that house were about six or seven copies of the daily newspaper in the same colorful plastic bags his delivery person typical used. M.N. went next door, gathered the papers, recycled the old ones, and kept that morning's paper so he could read it over coffee.

The next morning, the same thing happened. M.N. reported the non-delivery, then went next door to grab the incorrect delivered paper that was at the boarded up house.

Later that morning, he used the online chat service on the newspaper's site to inform them that his newspaper was being delivered to the wrong house. He expressed surprise that the deliverer wouldn't know not to deliver a newspaper to a boarded up house, and he gave a specific description of his house and his porch.

Still, for two days M.N. received credit for a missing paper that he ended up reading by recovering it from the boarded-up house next door. Even though he feels he was inconvenienced, he asks, "Am I obligated to let them know that I actually got the paper on those two days I got credit for?"

M.N. did read the newspaper on those two days. But when he reported a missing newspaper, he did so honestly and with good intent. He also was forthcoming during the online chat. He pays for the delivery to his house not to the boarded-up house next door. M.N. did the right thing by taking the time to straighten out the delivery issue. But he has no obligation to pay the newspaper for a product that was never delivered to him. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 


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