Our Opinion: Paid political letters policy begins again June 5

Published 5:15 pm Friday, May 31, 2024

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With election season underway, the Austin Daily Herald will soon begin its policy for letters to the editor endorsing political candidates. The policy will be in effect starting June 5 through Election Day.

During that period, letters asking people to vote for certain candidates or ballot measures will fall under the label of paid political advertisements.

To submit a letter in this category will cost $25 for local residents — people in Freeborn, Mower, Fillmore, Steele, Olmsted and Dodge counties in Minnesota and people in Mitchell County in Iowa — while letters from people outside of the area will cost $45 to publish.

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During election season, this newspaper is inundated with letters to the editor, many of which are organized by candidates or their campaigns, and should be considered paid political advertising.   

In the past decade, money spent on political advertising has shifted from newspapers to television, digital and direct mail, which do not give free endorsements via op-ed.   

As we’ve stated in the past, our intention is not to stop the conversation but to have a better business model than the way things have been done in the past. Many other newspapers across the state and the nation have also shifted to this model.

Rest assured, letter writers can still write about important issues, but the line is drawn when those letters advocate for or against parties or candidates who support or oppose that issue or when the letters advocate for or against a measure on the ballot.

Paid political letters will have the same length requirements as regular letters to the editor. They can be no more than 500 words and must include the name, address and phone number of the person who submitted the letter. The phone number and address will not be printed but will be used for verification purposes only.

The letters will be labeled as paid endorsement letters. Keep in mind the following dates for submitting paid political endorsement letters:

• All political endorsement letters prior to the primary election on Aug. 13 will need to be submitted by Aug. 5 to allow time to get into the Aug. 7 edition of the newspaper. No letters concerning politics will be published in the Aug. 10 edition.

• All political endorsement letters prior to the general election on Nov. 5 will need to be submitted by Oct. 28. The last edition letters will be published in before the general election is Oct. 30. No letters concerning politics will be published in the Nov. 2 edition.   

To make sure no one is prevented an opportunity to submit a letter because of hardship, we will offer one week of free letters the first week of October. Letters must be submitted Sept. 28 through Oct. 3 to qualify for this.

We look forward to the upcoming election and hope people will be civil.