Gimme a Gimmick

LEWISTON, ME — Amid tough economic times that are putting frugality back in fashion, this city’s daily newspaper is taking on the mission of helping its readers save money – and it’s backing up its words with a money-back guarantee.

Every day for six months, the Sun Journal is featuring a front-page box containing a penny-pinching tip that editors expect will add up to at least $1,000 in potential savings for each reader by the time the series concludes.

The initiative is the brainchild of Executive Editor Rex Rhoades, who is betting that subscribers will reap savings through the end of June that total at least twice the cost of their home-delivered paper. To subscribers who don’t meet that target, Rhoades is guaranteeing to refund the difference between the amount saved and the $97 subscription price, or even pay back the full cost to anyone who failed to save anything at all.

For years, some Sunday newspapers have trumpeted on their front page the amount readers could save by clipping the grocery coupons inside. More recently, as the recession deepened, newspapers and other media have been running more features targeted at trimming household spending, said Rick Edmonds, media business analyst at the Poynter Institute, a journalism think tank in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Edmonds, who characterized the Sun Journal’s concept as original and clever, said he was unaware of other newspapers offering such a guarantee. Still, he predicts that Rhoades doesn’t seem to have much to lose.

“I’m not foreseeing people by the hundreds or thousands demanding their money back,” he said.

The series developed as the economy tanked and people grew increasingly fearful about losing their jobs. Thinking outside the box, Rhoades sought a fresh approach to what he was sure would be the biggest ongoing story of the year.

“We knew going into 2009 that this was going to get worse, not better, and we asked ourselves what we could do as a newspaper to help people through this crisis,” he said.

-Associated Press

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