[Editor's note: A correction ran concerning this story; see end of article.]
FLASH BACK TO Sunday, December 5, 1999: The Star Tribune publishes "Cool Digs," a whopping eight-page insert about the brand-spanking-new home of the Science Museum of Minnesota, of which the Newspaper of the Twin Cities is a high-profile sponsor. The special section--complete with a "Commentary" praising the edifice's architecture--is produced by the newsroom and presented as purely an editorial product, though to Off Beat it reads like an advertorial. Meanwhile, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, whose offices are within spitting distance of the museum, runs a single Sunday feature to preview the grand opening; after the facility opens its doors the following Saturday, the hometown paper rings in with seven stories over a four-day period, two of them critical. Now fast-forward to this past week: The Pi Press rejects a full-page ad submitted by the museum because the ad copy lists the Strib as a sponsor. Let's see: On one side we have big-bucks sponsorship and shameless puffery, and on the other we have criticism and...vindictive behavior? Mary Altuvilla, the St. Paul paper's vice president of advertising, assures Off Beat that the rejection of the ad is simply the result of a "recent" policy that "doesn't allow direct-print-competitor logos in the Pioneer Press." It has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that the Star Tribune--which contributed $500,000 toward the $100 million museum's building campaign--made a successful bid to become the museum's "online information sponsor" and "official newspaper" for the next three years? Nope, says Altuvilla. Execs at the Strib shrugged when the museum resubmitted the ad sans logo. "I think we were a little surprised the Pi Press even noticed our logo, but we had no problem with them running the ad without it," says Star Tribune spokesman Frank Parisi. And will the Strib continue to print the competition's logo? Yes, swears Parisi, citing a recent Dayton's ad that featured that very emblem. "We do have a policy that leaves those decisions to our discretion, in case there's a competitive circumstance," he allows. "But no one around here can think of an example when we've ever applied it."
What Kind of Minnesotan Listens to MPR?
OFF BEAT'S NOT going to comment on the State of Minnesota v. Minnesota Public Radio fracas, except to observe that the squabble between MPR honchos and Attorney General Mike Hatch reminds us of the time in junior high when the school's two biggest nerds got into a "fistfight." We did take a gander at the directory of organizations with which MPR exchanged mailing lists during the period covered in Hatch's lawsuit, though. Initially the nonprofit network had been reluctant to divulge the names of its "exchangees"; an MPR attorney told the Star Tribune in December that to do so would be to "[involve] other people in a controversy they don't need to be involved in." But Will Haddeland, the network's senior vice president of public affairs, now tells Off Beat that it was a matter of hewing to contractual agreements for confidentiality, and that MPR simply wanted to secure permission from all the organizations before making their names public. The roster is posted on MPR's Web site (at access.mpr.org/aboutMPR/docs/list_trades.html). A preamble to the lineup asserts that most of the outfits are nonprofits and explains why MPR engages in such exchanges: to locate potential donors, and to "bring to the attention of our donors the programs and services of these other organizations without, however, endorsing them." A perusal of the list yields a lot of the usual nonprofit cultural suspects, from symphonies to theater groups to the Minnesota Zoo. There's also a "What kind of man reads Playboy?" aspect to the exercise. Along with the Democratic National Committee (the inclusion of which spurred Republican legislators to urge Hatch to look into the matter in the first place), Off Beat noted the presence of the Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, The Nation, Planned Parenthood, and the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), as well as a smattering of environmental groups. Maybe these are what inspired the preamble's authors to craft this helpful nugget: "This collective list of organizations have [sic] contributed greatly to the quality of life and civil discourse in Minnesota."
Correction published 2/2/2000:
Owing to a reporting error, an item in this column incorrectly stated that the St. Paul Pioneer Press had published only a short preview of the opening of the newly relocated Science Museum of Minnesota. The paper actually printed a 14-page special section. City Pages regrets the error.
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