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Tribune Opinion: The period for paid political letters has started

Summary: Political-related letters to editor will be required to be paid via community engagement portal: modulist.news.

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It’s the political season for 2020 when candidates and readers start writing letters to the editor in support of or against candidates. In fact, we received an email from one candidate’s representative last week inquiring about this newspaper’s letter to the editor policy in order to update his candidate’s supporters.

In the past, the West Central Tribune spent considerable staff hours in processing and proofing plus multiple pages of newsprint several days a week to publish political letters to the editor.

Two years ago, the Tribune — and other Forum Communications Co . newspapers — began charging for political letters during the campaign season. Our newspapers were not the first to do so and many have followed our example since.

Our political letter policy means that as the coming general election approaches, the Tribune will once again require a fee to print any political letters through Nov. 3.

This will include:

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  • 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 or their staff.

  • 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.

Processing of political letters will be handled as paid content via our community engagement portal, Modulist.news — a division of Forum Communications. Modulist handles community engagement submissions, ranging from political letters to engagements to birthday announcements.

To submit a paid political letter, go to www.modulist.news or call 701-241-5509. For further questions, you can submit a query to the Tribune’s letter email address: letters@wctrib.com . If you do not have internet access, you may mail your letter with your phone number to: Political Letters, West Central Tribune, PO Box 839, Willmar, MN 56201.

All paid political letters will appear on the page(s) immediately following the opinion page in our print edition on Wednesday or Saturday.

Political letters have increased in volume in recent years as political particles and campaigns encourage supporters to write them as a source of free publicity. And some candidates even pre-write example letters and ask supporters to sign them and submit them to newspapers.

The letters volume has increased significantly, requiring increased staff time and additional pages, all increasing the related cost. Staff time and newsprint are not free for any newspaper.

Thus, the Tribune and other newspapers are faced with one of three options.

  • Print more pages to accommodate the increase in letters, many repeating over and over many of the same talking points generated by campaigns.

  • Make decisions in selecting which letters are published and which are not. This, of course, upsets some readers and raises concerns about objectivity in that decision-making process.

  • Maintain to our system of paid letters, which is fair and which helps pay for the printing and mailing costs of those paid political letter pages.

This is not a windfall for the newspaper, but simply a way for readers to help pay the cost of the potentially high volumes of letters that may come in the next 10 weeks.
In addition, the Tribune and other Forum Communication Co. newspapers in 2018 reduced the rates of traditional political advertising, providing campaigns, politicians and parties better access to our pages.

Other advertising mediums — television, radio, billboards and direct mail — do not provide unlimited free messaging via their medium during the election campaign season.

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We look forward to hearing from our readers concerning their candidates and issues of their choice during the election 2020.

Readers are urged to continue writing traditional letters to the editor about issues that focus on pertinent and timely issues. And we continue publishing letters praising or criticizing issues before public bodies, like city councils or county boards.

As always, we welcome your opinion.

This editorial is the opinion of the West Central Tribune Editorial Board, consisting of publisher Steve Ammermann and editor Kelly Boldan.

Related Topics: LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Kelly Boldan has been editor of West Central Tribune and Wctrib.com in Willmar, Minnesota, since October 2001. He joined Forum Communications Co. in November 1998 as editor of the Bemidji (Minn.) Pioneer.
Boldan can be reached via email: editor@wctrib.com or telephone: 320-214-4331.
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