I posted a story last week about the Santa Clarita Valley Signal charging a dime per word for candidate endorsement letters. Late Friday, I received this email from Jason Schaff, executive editor of the Valencia, Calif.-based newspaper, explaining the new fee:
We initiated this policy because frankly management at The Signal feels that the newspaper was being used by campaigns to gain publicity for their candidates. We have been getting dozens of letters in letter-writing campaigns that read like ads, just getting the candidate’s name out there and not really engaging any issues. We don’t have the space for that. We didn’t want to just pick and choose letters. I would most certainly have been accused of favoring particular candidates if I did that. So the choice was to not run any political endorsement letters at all or impose a minimal charge on only political endorsement letters.
This is certainly not a new revenue stream or money making idea; the 10-cent per word fee will just simply pay for additional pages in the paper if needed. That way we can guarantee that all letters received will be run assuming they are not libelous or violate any bad-taste rules. If we get dozens of political letters, we’ll be able to run dozens of letters and still have room in our regular letters to the editor section for issue-based letters.
UPDATE: Joe Shults of the Columbia Daily Tribune says his paper has been charging for
election letters — “either of candidates or ballot issues” — for years now. “We charge $25 for letters up to 100 words, plus 50 cents per word after that,” he writes.” They’re always noted, of course, that they are paid letters once they appear in the paper. I’d be interested to know how many (or few) papers also charge for letters.”