Relieved of Column p. 11

By: Si Lieberman RON WIGGINS, A 54-year-old, prize winning columnist for the Palm Beach Post, has been suspended for promoting a company he invested in.
The Post reported the suspension of its high-profile writer in a 40-inch story that began on a cover page Nov. 2.
Post editor Edard Sears, 51, says he reluctantly took the action after learning that Wiggins acquired stock in saf-T-Lok Inc. in a private offering after writing two columns about the company, then made nearly $30,000 through the sale of some shares.
Saf-T-Lok, based in Tequesta, Fla., emplys 11 people manufacturing newly invented handgun safety locks, its shares have fluctuated wildly on the NASDAQ exchange during the past year, ranging from 38? a share to $19.50 before before settling on about $6.
The Post also reported that Wiggins, a two-time winner of the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors award for feature columns, repeatedly wrote about the merits of the company and its inventor on an America Online bulletin board called Motley Fool.
The columnist could not be reached for comment. In the Post story, however, he is quoted as admitting he tried to interest others in buying and promoting the stock because he strongly believed the gun lock had great potential to curb gun deaths, especially among children.
The newspaper has a ritten guideline requiring staffers to keep ""an impartial, arms-length relationship with those seeking to influence reporting or handling of the news, and with others dealing with the newspaper.""
Sears reinstated Wiggins and explained why in a bylined article on the cover of the Sunday, Nov. 10, Opinion section.
Declaring Wiggins ""guilty of extremely bad judgement,"" Sears said he ""deserves his time in newspaper purgatory. But he also deserves credit for 24 years of good-no, exemplary-behavior.""
The columnist ""became infatuated"" with the company because it promoted firearm safety and devoted two full columns and parts fo three others to it before investing in its stock, Sears said.
In the end, the editor confessed, ""It is not easy to hang one of our own out to twist in the hot winds of public opinion. Especially after he was forthright in answering our questions and is deeply mebarrassed by his conduct.""
The columnist joined the West Palm Beach newspaper in 1972 after a stint with the former St. Petersburg Independent.
Reached at his home, Frank Brooks , chairman of Saf-T-Lok, said he has nine patents in connection with the handgun lock and maintained that Wiggins has never been on his payroll.
"I think he's naive guy who got overly enthusiastick,"" Brooks said. Right after ""he bought the shares, he called me to say he wouldn't be able to write about the company any more. And last week, after the story was in the paper, he called and apologized. Said he did some dopey things. He's really no dope, just a nice guy, and I feel sorry for him.""
?( Palm Beach Post columnist Ron Wiggins was suspended with pay, before being reinstated about a week later, for touting a company he profited from) [Photo & Caption]
?(Lieberman, a retired editor of the Sunday Ausbury ParkPress in New Jersey, winters in Palm Beach.) [Caption]


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