Post-Dispatch Gets $268,000 Paycheck Courtesy of Missouri Treasurer's Media Buy

click to enlarge Wednesday's ad in the Post-Dispatch gobbled up four sections.
Wednesday's ad in the Post-Dispatch gobbled up four sections.
Scenario: You're one of those dinosaurs who still subscribes to the print edition of the Post-Dispatch, and for the third time this week, today you picked the paper off the front lawn to notice something strange. For a paper that seems to be constantly getting slimmer and slimmer, the Post-Dispatch is incredibly fat this week. How fat? Think Sunday New York Times.

But just when you get excited about all the great stories awaiting you inside this corpulent edition of the daily, you realize you've been had. There aren't any more stories in this paper. All there is is a list of people's names. Yesterday's list ran 38 pages long. Today's spans 40 pages.

The lists -- which appear in the Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday editions this week and next -- are the names of Missourian's with unclaimed property held by the state. And for the privilege of running those ads, the Post-Dispatch got a $268,768 check from the Missouri Treasurer Clint Zweifel's office.

But lest you think that such an expenditure is a waste of money (especially when the list appears free online at there's this: Since 1985 the state is required by state law to run the ads each year in newspapers across the state.

The Post-Dispatch runs on separate days the names of people with unclaimed property from St. Louis, St. Louis County, St. Charles County and Jefferson County. Those three counties and the city represent 42.9 percent of the 96,189 new names added to the unclaimed property database this year, which is why the Post-Dispatch charges more than any other paper in the state. By comparison, this year the Kansas City Star charged $40,888 to run the treasurer's listing, although that ad ran in one day and contained half the names that will appear in the Post-Dispatch over the next two weeks.

Jon Galloway, spokesman for the treasurer's office, says that the advertisement run in the Post-Dispatch really is something of a bargain. Last year the treasurer's office spent 8.8 percent more money ($294,737.48) to run its advertisement in the St. Louis daily, and that listing had fewer people. The Post-Dispatch charges $3.25 per name. The statewide average in other publications is $3.50 per name.

Prior to 2010, the treasurer's office used to run the St. Louis and St. Louis County listings in the St. Louis Daily Record, owned by Missouri Lawyer's Media, which charged the state $253,200 in 2009. At the time, the Daily Record had a circulation of just 1,000 people, according to Galloway.

"The ads in the Post-Dispatch reach 1.9 million people for a comparable price," says Galloway.

Zweifel's office will spend $672,593.05 to run the lists statewide this year. Money for the ads comes from the unclaimed property fund and not from the state's general revenue coffers.

Still, are the advertisements really necessary and -- hey -- how 'bout running them in the RFT next year? I'm sure we could give the treasurer's office a steep discount over the Post-Dispatch.

Alas, Galloway notes that the state law requires the ads in St. Louis, Kansas City and Springfield to run in a daily newspaper. And while the law may be antiquated with fewer and fewer people subscribing to daily newspapers these days, Galloway says he knows of no lawmaker who has tried to change the statute.

Moreover, Zweifel's efforts to return unclaimed property to Missourians have been extremely effective. This year the treasurer's office has returned a record $36.5 million to 123,000 account holders, and Zweifel has returned more than $119 million since taking office in 2009.
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