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Political plugs to be handled for what they are: paid content

They're really not letters to the editor.

Letters to the editor are expressions of personal views on matters of current public debate and consideration. Newspapers publish letters to the editor as part of a commitment to the community to provide a civil and productive forum for opinions, with the belief that from many ideas the best solutions can emerge to our many shared problems.

As for all of those "vote for him" and "pick her" letters that inundate newspapers' mailboxes, inboxes, and opinion pages in the run-ups to every election: They hardly fit the definition of a true letter to the editor. Instead, they are, often, an attempt by political candidates and their campaigns to take advantage of a newspaper's sense of public responsibility and to monopolize a limited public space (opinion pages) to reinforce a candidate's name recognition while squeezing out competition.

Recognizing that, Forum Communications has started treating such "letters" as they are: paid political content. Campaigns and political supporters can still have them published, but for a nominal fee.

Beginning Thursday, May 31, the Cloquet Pine Journal, Duluth News Tribune, Lake County News-Chronicle, and Superior Telegram join at least 15 other Forum-owned newspapers in accepting personal endorsements as paid content.

To place such content, simply go to fccmilestones.com, click on "Political Letters," and follow the prompts. Or, at the News-Chronicle's home page, lcnewschronicle.com, click on "Milestones," then on "Place a Milestone," and then on "Political Letters" to follow the prompts.

The fee for placing a personal endorsement is $15 for up to the first seven column inches (about 125 words). Each additional column inch (about 25 words per inch) is $10. You can write your own headline at the website.

The paid plugs will be published weekly in the News-Chronicle, and will be clearly marked as "paid political endorsements." The deadline each week will be noon Wednesdays.

As with anything new, we'll assess this and tweak as necessary. We appreciate feedback and comments.

Please note this applies only to political endorsements or non-endorsements. Letters to the editor on matters of current public debate — letters that truly contribute to the critical community conversations we need to be having — will continue to be accepted and considered for publication the same way they always have been. The best way to submit a letter is by email, to chronicle@lcnewschronicle.com.

— Chuck Frederick, editorial page editor (cfrederick@duluthnews.com or 218-723-5316)

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