NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- In the latest blowup over the accuracy of print publications' circulation figures, four advertisers have filed a lawsuit alleging that the Star Tribune newspaper of Minneapolis routinely overstated its paid circulation.
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They asked the court to declare the suit, which names the Star Tribune Co. and parent McClatchy Co. as defendants, a class action and award unspecified damages.
McClatchy, which publishes 12 daily and 17 non-daily newspapers, said it "forcefully denied" the allegations in the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court of Minnesota.
The plaintiffs, which said they have advertised in the Star Tribune since 1999, are Masterson Personnel Inc., Alternative Staffing Inc., Vision Staffing Solutions Inc. and Purchasing Professionals Inc. Masterson and Purchasing Professionals are based in Minneapolis; Alternative Staffing is based in Bloomington, Minn.; and Vision Staffing is based in Rogers, Minn.
In today's newspaper, a Star Tribune article on the suit reported that the newspaper sued Duane Hendrickson, vice president at Masterson Personnel, for failing to pay for more than $60,000 worth of newspapers he had received for distribution. That lawsuit is pending.
"That issue had nothing to do with this," Mr. Hendrickson said.
The court papers filed June 28 in the latest suit allege the Star Tribune:
- Required distributors to deliver unsold newspapers to residential and commercial addresses including hospitals, shopping centers and schools, whether school was in session or not.
- Made distributors dump unsold newspapers.
- Manipulated reports submitted to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.
- Continued to deliver newspapers to subscribers who had suspended delivery during vacations.
- Refused to credit retailers with unsold newspapers, reporting the papers as sold instead.
'Regular ABC audits'
"We've had regular ABC audits throughout the period of this complaint, and none has ever required any adjustment to our reported circulation," said Keith Moyer, Star Tribune president and publisher.
According to the complaint, a Tribune employee instructed a Star Tribune distributor who was also a Masterson employee to order 2,500 extra papers each week. "The representative stated that the distributor could give the extra papers away, sell them, or simply throw them away," the suit says.
In a sign of the cumulative effect that recent circulation scandals are having, the advertisers' court filing set the stage of their complaint by describing the admitted circulation inflation at Newsday, Hoy, The Dallas Morning News and the Chicago Sun-Times.