Beach, Beach, Beach

Beach, Beach, Beach

Three cheers for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, which is doing its best to stimulate the economy. A few weeks ago the paper announced a contest for employees to voluntarily hawk subscriptions to the paper. Each 13-week subscription sold entitles a staffer to a $25 gift certificate to Marshall Field's, Kincaid's steak house, or the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts. A 26-weeker nets a $35 gift certificate. Additionally, each time an employee sells a subscription, his or her name is entered in a drawing for an expenses-paid trip for two to Hawaii.

"Make a paper at a time," urges a brochure for the contest, which is touted as an opportunity to "share the Twin Cities [sic] three-time Pulitzer Prize winning paper with friends and family" at a discount price. "Best of all," the brochure concludes, "you can become a winner too."

In-house subscription-selling contests come and go, but two weeks ago, recently hired editor Vicki Gowler added a new twist: She asked reporters to pitch in.

"I paid very little attention to it," confesses Chuck Laszewski, a 21-year veteran reporter. "I would say there's nobody rushing right out and selling them like they're Girl Scout cookies." Laszewski says the contest set off some ethics detectors in the newsroom. "But Vicki said, 'Obviously, don't sell 'em to your sources,'" he adds.

"We pay reporters to use good judgment," seconds the paper's new publisher, Harold Higgins, pooh-poohing ethics concerns and explaining that the reporters were included this time around to "rev it up a bit." The idea for this contest, Higgins says, originated in the circulation department as a way to counteract an unusual dip--the paper is about 1,000 subscriptions below the usual level at this time of year. "We have almost 800 employees," the publisher notes, "and if everyone sold a subscription we'd be close to where we want to be."

The few newsroom staffers who have thought to give the contest a whirl are limited by the fact that the Pioneer Press doesn't offer home delivery in Minneapolis. Mostly, though, the contest has been met with a collective shrug. "After Vicki announced it," Laszewski recounts, "everybody just kind of went about their business."

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