To the editor:

My first job out of college was being editor of a weekly community newspaper.

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In addition to covering local government and school board happenings, one of my favorite things about being an editor was hearing the opinions of people from a variety of backgrounds, ages, economic circumstances and viewpoints - political and otherwise - in our letters section.

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Now, as is the case with every newspaper when it wasn't election season, we didn't receive too many letters. But when political campaigns heated up, we were excited to see how many people took the time to sit down, compose their thoughts and send them in. This is one of the strongest actions people can take in our democratic society.

Indeed, for many people, writing a letter to the editor is the only way they feel they can share their opinions with the greater community.

In a time when the relevance of newspapers in our society is waning, one would think that the Star Gazette would welcome as many letters as possible from their readers. So that's why their recent decision to actually start charging people for expressing their political opinions makes no sense. The move seems to fly in the face of freedom of speech and hurts those who do not have the $15 to send in a letter. How is this helpful to our political discourse?

While it is widely known that the newspaper industry is failing as a business model due to changing technology, publishers are doubling down on ways to "cover newsprint costs."

First, in the case of Hastings, they dismissed longtime staff members and abandoned the local flavor of our paper (e.g. printing Woodbury stories). And now, they are charging people for writing letters in support of political candidates. Perhaps next they will stop delivering papers entirely and require all subscribers to drive to their office to pick up a copy.

Why newspapers such as the Star Gazette seem to be systematically eliminating any reason to subscribe is baffling. But until that changes, we will only see political letters from those who have sent in their cash and checks to the editor - not the everyday citizens of Hastings who just want us to hear what they think.

Tom Bullington