How does your newspaper cook the books?

Ever been offered a "free four week trial" of a local newspaper? Been handed one by a street hawker on the way to work? This weekend, one local paper dropped off a free copy of the paper at every house in my subdivision. What's up with these newspaper promotions? How in the world do they keep an honest count?

If you've been following the Audit Bureau of Circulation scandals in the US, it's obvious some newspapers haven't been keeping an honest count. Newsday, for example:

In the beginning, the computerized process was used for legitimate sampling programs or to start batches of subscriptions sold by telemarketers, and it included strict criteria for paying credits to agents, the former manager said.

By 2000, however, Newsday's circulation department had loosened the criteria for credits and started using electronic lists to add thousands of customers who hadn't ordered the paper, the former manager said. With a couple of keystrokes, managers could boost their daily tallies and credit agents for the nonexistent or free deliveries, he said.

He said he once even witnessed a former manager entering a $1,500 agent credit into the system to pay for World Series tickets the agent had obtained for him.

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