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Paid letter policy to be implemented next week

Starting June 3, after the closing of the candidate filing period in Minnesota, the Austin Daily Herald will implement a new policy on letters to the editor endorsing political candidates. The policy will be in effect through Election Day.

Letters asking people to vote for certain candidates or ballot measures will now fall under the label of paid political advertisements.

To submit a letter in this category will cost $15 for local residents — people in Mower, Freeborn, Steele and Dodge county in Minnesota and people in Mitchell counties in Iowa — while letters from people outside of the area will cost $35 to publish.

Why the change?

During election season, this newspaper is inundated with letters to the editor, many of which are organized by candidates or their campaigns, and should be considered paid political advertising.

In the past decade, money spent on political advertising has shifted from newspapers to television, digital and direct mail, which do not give free endorsements via op-ed. Some campaigns even pay people to write letters to the editor, and we need to protect our business.

Our intention is not to stop the conversation,but to have a better business model than the way things have been done in the past. Many other newspapers across the state and the nation have also shifted to this model.

Rest assured, letter writers can still write about important issues, but the line is drawn when those letters advocate for or against parties or candidates who support or oppose that issue or when the letters advocate for or against a measure on the ballot.

Paid political letters will have the same length requirements as regular letters to the editor. They can be no more than 500 words and must include the name, address and phone number of the person who submitted the letter. The phone number and address will not be printed, but will be used for verification purposes only. The letters will be labeled as paid endorsement letters.

Keep in mind the following dates for submitting paid political endorsement letters.

• All political endorsement letters prior to the primary election on Aug. 11 will need to be submitted by Aug. 3 to allow time to get into the Aug. 5 edition of the newspaper. No political letters will run in the Aug. 8 edition because candidates do not have a chance to respond in the event any concerns arise.

• All political endorsement letters prior to the general election on Nov. 3 will need to be submitted by Oct. 26.

Candidates participating in the primary election will, as in the past, still be able to have one regular column between now and the primary, and candidates will also be allowed a column before the general election.

We look forward to the upcoming election and hope people will be civil in their discussions.