Over the years, opinion pages in our newspapers have been abused and quite frankly it’s our fault. We have allowed what are really advertisements in our opinion pages. Last year, our page count went up between four and eight pages each week during the political campaign. The newspaper received zero revenue from this and took on the printing and delivery expense. When political candidates hire people and coordinate groups of people to submit letters that they prepared, have their campaign committees submit letters, or get friends and family to submit letters, these letters should fall under advertising. It’s been a real problem the last few years. I’ve learned many newspaper colleagues feel the same way. As your local news source, we found a way to keep these political endorsement letters in the papers and help it be transparent to the readers by labeling them as paid endorsements and charging a nominal fee.
As your local newspaper, we struggled with a decision. We struggled with the expense of publishing up to four to eight extra pages during the political campaign season.
This week Press Publications and our sister newspapers will roll out a new guideline regarding endorsement letters. So what does this mean? It means we will continue to publish 99% of all letters to the editor that meet our guidelines of 350 words or less containing no libelous or derogatory statements and will charge a $25 fee for endorsement letters. What is an endorsement letter? It’s a letter that endorses or opposes a candidate or item on the ballot such as a levy, bond referendum, or items that require a vote. Our residents count on us to be transparent and we believe this is another way to continue to do that and prevent deep use and misuse of opinion pages in our local community papers.
A colleague and friend who publishes the Proctor Journal near Duluth has been charging endorsement letter fees for years. I believe many of the newspapers in North Dakota are charging fees, as well as our friends at the Echo Press in Alexandria, to name a few. The local community counts on the opinion pages to discuss local topics of concern, but when we get into the political season we get swamped with chain mail. This new guideline should help our staff of journalists focus on their job by covering countless meetings you don’t have time to attend and stories of interest to our readers.
Paid endorsement letter policy
“The White Bear Press accepts election letters endorsing or advocating for or against a ballot measure, party or candidate as paid advertising announcements. The fee is $25 for 7 inches and $5 for each additional inch. Like other letters to the editor, the writer’s name, address and phone number are required. Phone numbers are not published. The White Bear Press has the right to reject letters that don’t meet publishing standards and will determine if the letter qualifies as a paid endorsement. Paid letters will be identified with a label and may or may not appear on the opinion/letters page.”
As always, we welcome your opinions. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Carter Johnson is publisher of Press Publications.