Letters to the editor are meant to offer the community a forum to express their views and fuel community dialogue. They were never meant as a tool for political campaigns, yet we’ve witnessed an increasing trend of political groups abusing the newspaper’s letter to the editor sections, flooding opinion pages with their own messages.
Many political campaigns have formed “LTE” committees, which are a coordinated campaign committee with the task to send a timed waive of endorsement letters to the editor, or LTEs, to run in the newspaper. The waves of letters have become so orchestrated, many newspapers are treating them as advertisements. We will, too.
Starting in the Sept. 12 issue, this newspaper will continue to welcome letters to the editor endorsing candidates, political parties or ballot measures. However, letters that in some way endorse a candidate, party or ballot measure will be required to pay. See full details on this new policy in the box at right, “Paid Endorsement Letter Policy.”
One example why this paid endorsement letter policy is needed recently landed in my inbox. An editor sent me a note while attending a government meeting. A speaker at the meeting described how he pushes his lobby group’s message by writing a few boiler plate letters, then encourages individuals to choose one, personalize it, and send it to papers.
The speaker went on to boast how many newspapers ran them. Mind you, this speaker is at an open meeting with a newspaper editor in the room boasting about taking advantage of newspaper readers.
Another editor found “work at home” jobs paying people to write letters to the editor endorsing candidates. Another editor was accused of bias because so many letters were running for one candidate. Another editor found an unusually large amount of endorsement letters were coming from a neighboring city. The editor found out campaign committees were mailing from that city, so the paper unfortunately had to quit running all letters from that city.
The abuse isn’t new. Copy machines proliferated the mass endorsement letter via the USPS. Then, renewed abuse began arriving by email. It triggered many newspapers to begin charging during the 2018 election.
In Minnesota, newspapers from Proctor to Alexandria and from Red Wing to Hutchinson are charging. In Wisconsin, newspapers from Kenosha to Racine and from New Richmond to Superior are charging.
We’ll join those papers Thursday, Sept. 12.
Supporting and endorsing candidates or ballot measures is your prerogative. It shows you care. We welcome your endorsements, but plan to keep letter columns consistently fair with a small fee.
What do you think? Send us a letter.
Matt McMillan is the chief executive officer for a group of newspapers located in Minnesota and Wisconsin, including the Kanabec County Times, Pine City Pioneer, Braham Journal and Isanti-Chisago County Star.