Tom Stangl

Honest, I’m not selling anything…

Well, I take that back, I’m selling the value of your time reading the opinion pages.

Let me explain.

One of the many things we like to read in newspapers is what is called “user generated content” by the industry. That’s a fancy name for items submitted by readers. Bowling scores, classified ads, birth announcements, obituaries and letters to the editor. All of these things rank high on readership surveys year after year.

We are making a change to our letters to the editor policies to help cut through the clutter that begins appearing in the weeks and months leading up to elections.

I’m referring to the letters extolling the virtues of a candidate and urging you to cast your vote for the subject on the letter writer. 

We are gearing up for election season. In addition to getting to know the candidates seeking public office, we are rolling out a new policy concerning letters to the editor that endorse a candidate.

Starting today, we are charging for letters endorsing candidates.

Why are we making this change?

For years, candidates have encouraged supporters to write endorsement letters, knowing that letters to the editor traditionally have very high readership and are free. This is especially true in statewide or national races. 

In some years, we have received nearly identical letters from numerous readers inside and outside of readership area. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that an organized letter writing campaign was underway. 

I can’t fault campaigns. They understand that the pages of the newspaper is where readers turn to learn about issues and candidates before making their decision. Surveys show this to be true, but spending by political campaigns on print advertising continues to decline.

Between our coverage of candidates and their views on issues and letters to the editor, campaigns correctly figured they had this powerful medium sewed up. We chump newspapers were too stupid to know the difference.

Well, I’m here to tell you that even the staunchest defenders of free expression have their limits, and we have reached ours.

Will we still publish letters complaining about the actions of the school board or city council? Sure will. We are looking to get paid for letters that urge readers to vote a certain way on election day. If you feel passionate about your cause or candidate, $25 for a letter shouldn’t be a hardship.

Everything else is free game, as long as you meet the word count limits, keep it civil and avoid language that could get anyone sued.

Paid endorsement letter policy

“We accept election letters endorsing or advocating for or against a ballot measure, party or candidate as paid advertising announcements. The fee is $25 minimum for a 250 word letter and 10 cents a word for additional words over 250. Like other letters to the editor, the writer’s name, address and phone number are required. Phone numbers are not published. We have the right to reject letters which 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.”

If you have questions or concerns, drop me a line. I am happy to help.

As always, I welcome your comments. You can reach me by email at tstangl@theameryfreepress.com, telephone 715-268-8101 or write me at P.O. Box 424, Amery, WI, 54001.

Thanks for reading I’ll keep in touch. Feel free to do the same.

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