Off Beat

Are Tim McGuire's Pants on Fire?

LAST WEEK OFF BEAT delved into the all-but-certain demise of FreeTime, the Star Tribune's "hefty, easy-to-use" Friday entertainment tabloid. When we had the temerity to ask Strib editor Tim McGuire how he'd compare FreeTime to City Pages, McGuire quipped dismissively, "I think those comparisons came out of City Pages' paranoia." But hey, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you, right? While performing our twice-per-decade archaeological desk dig, Off Beat unearthed some internal Strib marketing materials anticipating the fall 1999 launch of FreeTime that clearly show the Newspaper of the Twin Cities was positioning its new tab against City Pages. One piece, for instance, compared the number of 18- to 24-year-old readers reached by the Strib, City Pages, and the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Another outlined specific advertisers ("hot prospects") who were advertising in City Pages but not the Strib's Friday Variety section. Those promotional materials identified FreeTime as a 56-page tab. The most recent issue (June 22) numbered 44 pages. When Off Beat asked company spokesman Frank Parisi whether the decision to "take a hard look" at FreeTime was purely an editorial one, or whether revenue issues were involved, he said "everyone" on the Strib's executive team has been in on the discussions. Surely the decline in advertising sales can't have helped the tab, however. Last week the Strib's parent company, the Sacramento, California-based McClatchy Co., released numbers for the first five months of 2001. During that period, Star Tribune ad revenue was down 6.7 percent (including a drop of 11.7 percent in May)--the steepest fall-off in the chain.

Show Us the Money!

Last week, after the City of St. Paul gave $25,000 to WCCO-TV (Channel 4) to help pay for a downtown studio there, some media scolds questioned the ethics of a news organization (a rich one, at that) groveling for handouts from the government it purports to cover. Off Beat, on the other hand, has been feeling kinda cramped in our Minneapolis Warehouse District headquarters. Ethics, shmethics! We placed a call to Jeff Nelson, St. Paul's director of cultural development, to inquire whether the city might throw a few grand our way for an Off Beat St. Paul Bureau. "We can set you up," Nelson says (to our surprise). "Unfortunately," he adds, "you need to wait about a year"--until the next municipal-giveaway opportunity comes around. The upside is that we'll have plenty of time to glean pointers from WCCO's grant proposal. The station actually requested half the cost of its new studio ($250,000). We figure we could make do with a closet, as long as it has a window and a water cooler, so we're gonna ask for $100,000. Promising increased news coverage of St. Paul would seem to be a good idea as well. "The local sports, cultural and business scene will be better represented by a St. Paul studio," reads WCCO's application, in which station manager Greg Keck and general manager Jan McDaniel go on to pledge that "WCCO-TV will cover, promote and serve the community better than any other Minnesota broadcaster." Pretty tough to top in the pandering department, but Off Beat's going to give it a whack: Each week we promise to devote half this column to St. Paul. And nary a snotty remark about toxic ethanol plants or misguided corporate subsidies. Off Beat is here to serve you, St. Paul!

Digging Deep, Flying High

IT SEEMS PRES. George W. Bush has acquired some of his predecessor's fund-raising chops. At the Republican National Committee presidential gala, held May 22 in Washington, D.C., more than 3,000 guests paid a minimum of $1,500 to dine with the president. One guest on the prestigious "Dinner Committee"--a group that commits to raising at least $50,000--was none other than Gary Wilson, chairman of Northwest Airlines. Perhaps Wilson got a chance to thank Bush for last winter's executive order preventing Northwest mechanics from striking (that having been only the second time a president has taken such action). In any event, it shouldn't be too tough for Northwest to dig up the bucks. According to the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics, the airline leads all other Minnesota-based companies in political contributions, with $867,039 raised locally, and a total of $1.3 million drummed up during the 1999-2000 election cycle (split roughly evenly between Republican and Democratic causes). By comparison, the state's largest company, Target Corp., raised a meager $395,854. The gala raked in $23.9 million--not bad, but still a few beans short of former President Clinton's one-night record of $26.5 million.

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