Off Beat

Behind the Bounty

THE APPARENTLY RANDOM murder of 17-year-old Anthony Basta two weeks ago left many in the victim's quiet St. Paul neighborhood reeling. So too, apparently, St. Paul-based KSTP-TV (Channel 5), which offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the case. Why would a media outfit become involved in a criminal investigation? Station spokeswoman Dayna Deutsch says Basta's murder hit especially close to home because the victim's cousin, Mark Ginther, is an assistant news director at KSTP. But according to Deutsch, that wasn't the primary motivation for offering the reward: "It's the senselessness of it, officially. It happened in a family neighborhood at 10:00 in the evening. It wasn't like he was out at 2:00 in the morning. Once in a while, something strikes a deep, deep chord. This was one of those things that moved people here." Deutsch says the bounty is not unprecedented; in 1988 KSTP offered (and paid) $10,000 for information about the notorious 1979 bludgeoning death of 18-year-old Marlys Wohlenhaus. According to news director Scott Libin, the decision to post a reward in the Basta case came from KSTP's hometown corporate parent, Hubbard Broadcasting. "It's an interesting position to be in as a journalist," Libin says. "But I'm acutely aware of how corporate media works in the rest of this industry, so I'm happy to trade it for a family-owned environment, even when it brings up interesting situations like this." Though the reward didn't originate from the news department, Libin continues, he felt obligated to disclose the station's stake in the investigation during its coverage of the case. "It's a fine line," he explains. "On the one hand, it could seem like we're bragging. But to not mention it would be something less than forthright. We thought the best thing to do was to put it out there and let viewers make of it what they will."

Four Days Up, Three Days Down

WEB, SCHMEB. LAST week the Star Tribune announced its fourth consecutive circulation gain in the good ol' newsprint product, marking a two-year streak of ink-stained growth. For the six-month period that ended in March, the Strib picked up 6,073 subscribers, bringing its reported daily circulation to 406,409--making it the 17th-largest daily in the nation. (Sunday circulation increased by 5,615, to 679,674--11th-highest in the U.S., if you're keeping score.) That "daily" number, however, is a misnomer: It reflects only Thursday-through-Saturday circulation. According to spokesman Frank Parisi, the paper's current Monday-to-Wednesday circulation is 338,982--16 percent lower than the three-day figure and down a hair from a reported 340,783 in March 1999. "That's the slowest part of the circulation week," Parisi acknowledges. But he adds that the paper considers the Thursday-Saturday number more crucial, and more useful. "If you talk to any of the advertising agencies, I think they will speak to that," Parisi explains, pointing out that the Strib publishes its special-interest sections (Taste, FreeTime, Home & Garden) Thursday through Saturday: "We don't put the sections in willy-nilly--the sections are put in when readers want the information." Although the St. Paul Pioneer Press (up 2.2 percent to 208,062 during the week, down slightly to 262,144 Sunday) continues to rely on a Monday-Friday number, the Audit Bureau of Circulations, which independently verifies newspaper circulation, confirms that more and more papers are basing their counts on different days of the week. Parisi credits the circulation growth to an improved product and better customer service and delivery. He declines to provide details regarding another potentially significant factor: subscriber discounts. He'll say only that the paper's corporate parent, the California-based McClatchy Co., believes that increasing circulation is a good strategy. (Several years before McClatchy bought the Strib in 1998, the paper cut back on its subscriber discounts.) Meanwhile, Off Beat has heard mutterings that the Strib's revenue this year is falling short of budgeted targets. "We're a little soft in the retail area, first quarter," Parisi concedes, referring to retail advertising sales. The paper went through a similar budget scare last year, he notes, and went on to meet its target by year's end. "I don't think there's any anxiety about making our plan for the year," he concludes.

No More Off Beat

BEGINNING WITH NEXT week's edition, this column will have a new title: Vento Beat.

 
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