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Tribune faces backlash from marketing email

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The San Luis Obispo Tribune dealt with criticism from readers following the death of SLOStringer Matthew Frank, thanks to a marketing email created by the paper's parent company.

In the days immediately following Frank's death, The Tribune published multiple stories and tributes to Frank's life and his work as SLOStringer. The marketing email was sent to potential Tribune subscribers less than a week after the March 21 car accident that killed Frank. Featuring the slogan, "Real people. Real news" and offering an 80 percent discount on Tribune subscriptions, the ad also featured a photo of Frank's wrecked SUV, which ran in newspaper's initial story about his death.

By March 24, the newspaper's Facebook page was deluged with comments from SLO County residents offended by the use of the photo in the advertisement. Many aired their grievances in comments under unrelated news stories.

"This is unacceptable," one commenter wrote. "[Frank] was a good friend to many of us and seeing something like this ... it's in pretty poor taste."

The Tribune issued an apology on March 24, calling the use of the photo an "egregious error." According to the statement, the Sacramento-based marketing team for The Tribune's parent company, McClatchy, created the email.

"Unfortunately, the email was not reviewed by local Tribune staff before it was sent out," the statement read.

McClatchy owns 29 newspapers across the United States, including five in California. In a February presentation to JP Morgan Chase, the company said its reach included 14 million people in local markets, and more than 59 million globally.

In an email response to questions from New Times, Tribune General Manager Devon Goetz said that new procedures were developed to avoid a similar mistake in the future.

"Going forward, we are instituting a review process for promotions related to news content," Goetz wrote. "Honestly, in my more than 30 years with the company, I can't recall anything remotely like this happening before. But this error is one too many and we hope anyone we offended will accept our apology and our word that we will work hard to avoid a repeat."

Frank's memorial service was held at Mountainbrook Church in SLO on March 29 and was followed by a barbecue at the Madonna Inn Expo Center. An online fundraising campaign for Frank raised more than $25,000 as of March 29.

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