Two years ago, the Herald – and other newspapers in the Forum Communications Co. chain – began charging for political letters during campaign season. This company was not the first to enact such a policy, and we’ve seen others do it in the years since.
The policy means that as the upcoming elections approach, the Herald will once again be requiring a fee to print all political letters, through Nov. 3.
This is to include:
● Any letter that endorses a candidate.
● Any letter that disparages a candidate or notes a candidate's faults, etc.
● Any letter by a campaigning politician.
● Any letter that hints one way or another at an initiated measure or ballot issue.
● Any letter that is obviously for or against a political party.
Political letters will be handled by Modulist, a branch of Forum Communications specifically set up to handle what are called “community engagement” submissions, ranging from political letters to birthday announcements. To submit paid political letters, go to www.modulist.news or call 701-241-5509. For further questions, submit queries to the Herald’s letters email at email@example.com.
The reasoning for this policy is simple: Our pages were increasingly crowded by political letters in the weeks leading up to elections. Since most newspapers traditionally have published all letters to the editor, political parties and campaigns often target them as a source of free publicity.
In some cases, campaigns have specifically used letter-writing drives in lieu of advertising. We know this because they have told us this. And some even pre-write letters and ask supporters to sign them and send them to newspapers.
And over time, the volume grew to a point where it was difficult to accommodate all of the letters without affecting our own space requirements or our bottom line. Newsprint isn’t free, after all.
It has left newspapers – not just the Herald, but all newspapers – with one of three options:
● Print more pages to accommodate the increase in letters, many of which repeat the same talking points, over and over.
● Make decisions on which letters are published and which letters aren’t. This, of course, raises concerns about objectivity and, during an election season, it’s a contentious process.
● Or move to a system of paid letters, which is fair and which helps pay for the printing and mailing of those letters. This is no windfall for newspapers, but simply a way to pay for the space that is required for the potentially high volume of letters that are sure to come over the next 10 weeks.
Remember that no other advertising mediums – billboards, TV, radio, glossy mailers – allow unlimited free messaging during campaign season. Meanwhile, the Herald and other Forum Communications Co. newspapers in 2018 reduced the rates for traditional political advertising, allowing campaigns, politicians and parties better access to our pages.
In recent weeks, the Herald already has turned away letters from politicians and those directly endorsing candidates. A few letters – those simply discussing party politics – have been received in recent days and are printed in today’s edition since we didn’t announce that specifically in recent weeks. But it will be the last of the political letters until Nov. 4.
Once the election ends, the restriction on political letters will be lifted.