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Advertisers Sue 'Star Tribune'

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MINNEAPOLIS Four advertisers sued the Star Tribune and its parent company on Tuesday, claiming Minnesota's largest newspaper inflated its circulation numbers so it could charge more for ads.

The federal lawsuit seeking class-action status alleges the Minneapolis newspaper required distributors to dump unsold papers and failed to report returned papers accurately.

The newspaper denied the allegations in a statement Tuesday.

The lawsuit includes allegations by an unnamed Star Tribune distributor who also works for one of the plaintiffs, Masterson Personnel Inc. It claims that in December 2003, a Star Tribune circulation worker told the distributor to order an extra 2,500 papers per week, saying the distributor would be reimbursed later for the papers. The distributor bought extra papers for three weeks, for a total of 7,500 papers, the lawsuit alleges.

The extra order was "because circulation numbers for the Star Tribune were down and needed to be increased before the end of December 2003. The representative stated that the distributor could give the extra papers away, sell them, or simply could throw them away," the lawsuit said.

The other plaintiffs are Alternative Staffing Inc., Vision Staffing Solutions Inc. and Purchasing Professionals Inc. All four are employment agencies.

The Star Tribune and its corporate parent, the McClatchy Co., released a statement denying the claims. McClatchy treasurer Elaine Lintecum said the lawsuit was without merit and the company stands by its circulation practices.

"We have complete confidence in our circulation numbers and we believe our reported circulation will stand up to examination," added Keith Moyer, Star Tribune publisher and president, in the statement.

In May, the Star Tribune reported daily circulation of 378,316 and Sunday circulation of 655,198. It is McClatchy's largest newspaper. The lawsuit did not specify how much plaintiffs believe the Star Tribune overstated circulation.

Allegations of circulation inflation have surfaced at several newspapers. On June 15, three former employees of the newspapers Newsday and Hoy in New York were arrested in circulation probes. A distributor of the papers had been throwing away tens of thousands of papers daily and counting them as sold, prosecutors alleged.

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