The filing deadline for Duluth City Council and Duluth School Board candidates was Tuesday, meaning that, while it’s only June, we’re already in the throes of a local election season. So, a reminder then that letters to the editor for or against candidates — those vote-for-him/don't-support-her notes that historically have inundated and overrun newspaper opinion pages in the run-ups to elections — are treated as paid content in the News Tribune.
They used to be published like other letters, which are expressions of personal views on matters of current public debate. Newspapers publish letters to the editor as part of a commitment to the community to provide a civil and productive forum for viewpoints, with the belief that from many ideas the best solutions can emerge to our many shared problems.
But letters for and against candidates hardly fit that definition. Rather, they often are an attempt by political candidates and their campaigns or supporters to take advantage of a newspaper's sense of public responsibility to monopolize a limited public space and reinforce a candidate's name recognition while squeezing out competition.
Recognizing that, in 2018, the News Tribune joined other Forum Communications newspapers — and most major papers around the country — by treating such "letters" for what they really are: paid political content. Campaigns and supporters can still have them published, but for a nominal fee: $16.75 for the first seven column inches (about 125 words) and $11 for each inch thereafter. Submissions are required to include the writer's name, address, and phone number, though only the writer's name and city are published.
In the News Tribune, paid political letters are published on Saturdays on the page preceding the WeekendOpinion pages. The deadline for the letters is noon Wednesdays. Paid political letters can be submitted through the duluthnewstribune.com website. At the top of the home page, hover your mouse over "More" and then click on "Milestones" under "Community Interests." Then click on "Place a Milestone" to follow the on-screen instructions. You'll have to create a free account if you don’t already have one.
Please note, this applies just to political endorsements and non-endorsements. Traditional letters to the editor on matters of current public debate — letters that truly contribute to the critical community conversations we need to be having — continue to be considered for publication the same way as always. Non-candidate letters to the editor are limited to 300 words in the News Tribune. The best way to submit such a letter is by email, to email@example.com.
Letters in response to News Tribune endorsement editorials or other published content aren't treated as paid content if submitted to the letters email address.
Healthy communities engage in healthy and robust exchanges of ideas and viewpoints. The News Tribune, like most newspapers, remains committed to hosting, via its Opinion pages, exchanges that are robust and productive. And we strive always to ensure that they remain accurate, civil, and inclusive of a diversity of viewpoints.
Those gluts of letters ahead of elections that plug this candidate or disparage that incumbent may not fit with that, but they still have a place in print.
— Chuck Frederick, Editorial Page Editor (cfrederick@ duluthnews.com, 218-723-5316)