We’re going to take a little time today to recognize Carrier Appreciation Day. It’s a day we tip our hat to the folks who make sure you receive the paper each morning.

The job is different than it was when afternoon newspapers employed youngsters to toss papers toward your door. They’re up well before most people even think about hitting the snooze button, picking up their route’s papers from our printing facility at around 3 a.m. and preparing to hit their deliveries.

The Leader-Telegram has 32 carriers who deliver a total of 67 routes scattered across Eau Claire, Chippewa Falls, Altoona, Fall Creek and Menomonie. Most of the carriers have been on the job for a while. The average is seven years’ experience, but the longest-tenured carrier has more than two decades of service.

The biggest route for a single carrier? A whopping 650 papers per day.

Here’s the way Circulation Director Mark Robertson described the work:

“Newspaper routes are like snowflakes, they are all unique. Some routes are small, some are medium, and some are big. Some have tube deliveries, some have driveway deliveries, some have porch deliveries and some have a little bit of everything.”

The days when a single person could control every aspect of a newspaper’s work are long gone. We’ll still get the occasional call in the newsroom from a reader wanting to know why the editor can’t fix something that another department handles. That’s just not how it works anymore.

It’s more realistic to look at a newspaper as multiple businesses under a single roof. The news gathering and writing takes place in the newsroom. You have, effectively, two sales departments. One sells advertisers on buying space in the paper, while the other sells the finished paper to readers. Yet another department handles the printing — and there’s a lot more than just the day’s paper rolling off the press.

Circulation, the department that tries to ensure the papers get where they need to be, is yet another part of the puzzle. And that’s where the carriers come in. While the news and ad staffs create the content that fills the pages and the printing plant literally makes it look good, the carriers are that crucial, final link that puts the product in readers’ hands.

When that last step goes wrong, we hear about it. And, in all honesty, that’s a good thing. People don’t complain about things they don’t care about. Complaints of that sort mean there’s an underlying relationship, a connection that still exists. When people don’t care enough to call, that’s a problem.

On the balance, though, our carriers do a good job. The carriers’ job is to get the newspaper to our readers “in a dry and readable condition each day,” Robertson said. And, generally speaking, that’s what they do. It’s far more common for any delays to be attributable to problems with the press itself than the people who deliver the paper.

The work our carriers do isn’t the most visible. They don’t have bylines. They don’t work with local businesses to coordinate ads. In a lot of cases our readers don’t know their names. But you do know their work, and you know how important their role is for our newspaper.

A lot has changed. The world shown in “Newsies,” one of the few pop culture moments that has focused on that last link in the newspaper chain, isn’t reality anymore. Neither is the familiar sight of a paperboy on a bike, bag of papers slung over his shoulder. There might still be middle school and high school kids awake when the paper is delivered these days, but there are vanishingly few parents who would approve of them being out to deliver it.

Newspapers have always been a team effort. We start each day with blank pages and fit the pieces together over the course of 20 hours or so. Then, each day, we start over. But all that work is for nothing if the papers don’t get to readers.

So we thank our carriers who make sure that last step is taken. They may not be in the spotlight, but that doesn’t make them less important.