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 wave 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 August 2, 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 below.

We’ve heard many stories of why this paid endorsement letter policy is needed. An editor was attending a government meeting when 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.

Letters of a political nature are an important part of any newspaper’s content. We appreciate the diverse thoughts and opinions of our readers, and we believe other readers do, too. Reader letters contribute to a vibrant community discussion, which we believe to be the specialty of strong community newspapers like the Grand Rapids Herald-Review.

In Minnesota, newspapers from Proctor to Alexandria and from Red Wing to Hutchinson are charging. It’s been a growing trend in the newspaper business for years. We’ll join those papers Sunday, Aug. 2.

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.

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