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WENZEL: Treasure Hunters experience proves ads can be controversial, too

I was still the editor of this newspaper when a couple of local business owners approached me about a story The Daily Republic had recently published.

It was in 2009 and the story, assigned by me, outlined what I considered a unique event coming to Mitchell. Called "Treasure Hunters Roadshow," it paired gold buyers with potential sellers of gold and other household valuables.

After the story was published, those business owners gave me the low-down on THR. They chastised me for allowing that story to run because they felt the company had a bad reputation.

Turns out they were correct, and their tip proved fruitful. When The Daily Republic dug a little deeper, we learned that THR had bounced some 80 checks in the months leading up to its Mitchell visit.

Although the South Dakota Attorney General's Office at that time said no troubles had been reported in our state, we still published a less-than-flattering follow-up story. We quoted THR Director of Operations Matthew Enright, who called the bounced checks an "isolated" incident and a "brief issue."

So no, I was not surprised Tuesday morning when I saw CBS News unveil its long investigation about THR and Associates, claiming THR is responsible for various cases of lying, fraud and bounced checks around the nation. Sure enough, right there on TV was the same Matthew Enright who spoke to The Daily Republic three years ago. Only this time, he was being questioned by national network reporters.

It reminds me of a call I took a few months ago, questioning why The Daily Republic allows THR to advertise on our pages.

We have published several large advertisements purchased by THR and Associates, including three full-page ads in March alone.

The truth is that from time to time, this newspaper publishes advertisements from companies that some readers feel are indeed questionable.

My response: It's difficult to know for sure who's legitimate and who isn't. Heck, The Daily Republic sometimes publishes ads from advertisers -- local, regional and national -- who don't ever pay their bill, so we aren't immune to fraud either.

We print dozens of display ads and sometimes hundreds of classified ads each day. It would be impossible for us to determine whether all advertisers are honest, and a company that has a bad reputation today may come back a year from now and be completely on the up-and-up.

Would we run an ad from THR again in the future?

Maybe, but considering recent media reports, we would ask some questions before we do. We checked Tuesday, and the state AG's office has not fielded any in-state complaints against THR.

I caution readers to be wary and ask around before doing business with that company. And considering our reporting on the troubles of THR, I'm not sure it will advertise with us again anyway.

Consider this: If a local restaurant runs afoul of the state Department of Health, we will still accept advertising from the restaurant's owners.

Why? Because once their troubles are behind them, they still can be a great contributor to the local economy and to the general enjoyment of our readers.

It's up to the reader to decide whether to eat there, and for the record, I always am willing to grant a second chance.

I will say this: The Daily Republic has never called THR and solicited advertising. We only have accepted their ads after they have first contacted us. THR asked for bulk advertising discounts from us, but we did not grant them.

We also have had national advertisers try to place ads that are questionable in taste. One such ad even made me blush, and that doesn't happen much.

We informed the advertiser that they'd have to tone down the ad before we would publish it. We reminded them that reporters here still have to seek permission from the publisher before they print the words "h*ll" and "d*mn."

They did tone it down, although the second ad probably still prompted a few raised eyebrows from our readership. (You'll have to trust me: The second ad was much more conservative than the first. Holy cow.)

Advertisements are a tricky business. They're an integral ingredient of a newspaper and they help pay the bills for all of the things that we do.

Yet I'm learning that they can be just as controversial, and sometimes more, as many of the stories we write.