Tag Archives: newspapers

Engaging the Media: Telling Our Operations Research StORies to the Public

My article “Engaging the Media: Telling Our Operations Research Stories to the Public” has been published in SN Operations Research Forum. I wrote this article after appearing in the news many times, especially after the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic began (see my media appearances here). The paper’s abstract is as follows:

Academic research occasionally captures the attention of the media. When this happens, there is a small window of opportunity to disseminate the real-world impact of our research and the value of our operations research and analytics expertise to the public. To do so, we must package our messages for public consumption. In this article, I summarize principles for interacting with the media, describe what various media interactions are like, and offer tips for capitalizing on one’s expertise. Finally, I reflect on what we have to offer to journalists and the value of telling our stories to the public.

I feel strongly that applied operations research should be outward facing to some level. Otherwise, the research has little chance to make an impact beyond the discipline. I wrote a brief statement about my outreach philosophy at the end of my research statement in my promotion dossier:

My research formulates new operations research models and algorithms for solving important and interesting real-world problems of national interest and concern. I take this responsibility to serve my profession and our nation quite seriously. I believe that it is essential for researchers who are working on problems in the public sector to disseminate their research findings to the public through outreach in addition to dissemination in academic journals. Translating research concepts into practical messages is critical for influencing public policy and transitioning research concepts into practice. This is a common theme that permeates all my research activities.

the newsvendor problem revisited: bad newspaper delivery routes in the news

The Boston Globe has had a delivery crisis, and it sounds like could have been avoided with operations research.

It’s hard for newspapers to operate in the 21st century. Like most newspapers, the Boston Globe is in cost cutting mode. The Globe switched to a new delivery vendor at the end of December to cut costs. The new vendor changed how it delivers newspapers to its subscribers: it cut staff and distribution centers and changed the routes. The routes were much longer than the previous routes. These longer routes led to dissatisfaction and many of the employees quit, which resulted in even longer routes for the employees who stayed. The problem snowballed and it resulted in 150 unstaffed routes, thousands of undelivered newspapers, and unhappy subscribers (112,000 reader complaints per day, up from the usual 2000 complaints!). Eventually, the Boston Globe hired another vendor to help deliver newspapers.

Here is a good article about the situation with Boston Globe delivery. Interestingly, the routes were blamed for the newspaper delivery woes. An excerpt:

Interviews with key executives within the organization reveal that the root of the delivery mayhem lies in something so simple that nobody gave it much thought until it was too late: sensible paper routes.

“Because route sequencing is a relatively easy part of such a difficult process, our team never called out sequencing as a major problem until we learned of it in real time,” said Andrew Perlmutter, executive vice president of Boston Globe Media Partners, who led the project.

I’m not sure that routing and scheduling is always so simple, but I am confident that operations tools are useful for solving this problem in an efficient manner. The vehicle routing problem to the rescue! A quick search through Interfaces shows many successful applications of routing and delivery, including

Fun fact: I once delivered newspapers as a teenager. I was given a set of houses in a neighborhood and I created my own route. I always had an eye for efficiency, even as a 13 year old.

What are your thoughts on newspapers and operations research? What is your favorite routing and/or delivery application?