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Five ND newspapers will charge fee to publish political endorsement letters

FARGO—North Dakota-based newspapers owned by Forum Communications Co. will begin charging for political endorsement letters to the editor beginning April 1.

Many newspapers nationwide started this practice years ago as well as the FCC-owned Alexandria Echo Press in Minnesota. In recent months, FCC-owned RiverTown Multimedia newspapers in southeastern Minnesota and western Wisconsin also began charging for such letters.

Most newspapers that have adopted this approach cite one main reason: Political campaigns for years have used newspaper opinion pages for what amounts to free advertising. As these letter-writing campaigns become more widespread and sophisticated—some campaigns even pay people to write letters to the editor—newspapers are flooded with requests to publish them, especially in the run-up to elections.

"Due to the volume of endorsement letters, publishers and editors of FCC's North Dakota papers decided to be consistent about which letters are published and the length of the endorsement letters published," said Matt McMillan, company vice president for newspapers.

The new policy for political endorsement letters to North Dakota-based FCC newspapers reads:

"Election-related letters to the editor advocating for or against a candidate, ballot measure or political party will be considered ads and are subject to a charge of $25 for the first 7 inches and $10 for each inch thereafter.

"As with other letters to the editor, they must be submitted with the writer's name, address and phone number (only the writer's name and city are published)."

The newspapers retain the right to reject any letter that doesn't meet its publishing standards and will decide whether a letter is subject to the fee, at which point the letter writer may decide whether to pay to have it published.

McMillan said the fee is set below business advertising rates.

The paid political endorsement letters will publish on a certain day each week and may or may not run on the Opinion page itself. All paid letters will be identified as such.

FCC's North Dakota newspapers are The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, The Grand Forks Herald, The Jamestown Sun, The Dickinson Press and the West Fargo Pioneer.

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