Frankly, our opinion pages have been used and some would say abused by campaigns to promote candidates and political events. Many of the letters read like advertisements because they are advertisements.
That is why, effective today, RiverTown will charge for letters endorsing candidates.
This is something a few of our sister newspapers in Forum Communications Co. have done for years. We decided to join them for several reasons, including.
• Campaigns in the special Wisconsin Senate District 10 race have used letters to raise awareness of their candidate, criticize the opposition and gain publicity. While a few letterwriters have talked about the actual issues at stake in this election, several have not.
• We have neither the space to print these letters nor the personnel to process them. Ethically, we can't and mustn't serve an extension of any candidate's campaign.
• Several writers submit letters that repeat what others say. In the past, we chose not to publish these "echoes" or we chose to print them all (barring libel and personal attacks). Going forward, we don't want to pick and choose between letterwriters. Sometimes someone who writes later in the campaign does so more eloquently and more to the issue than the previous writer, but printing that letter still would be redundant. By paying a fee, people who wish to restate a point may do so.
When we considered our options, we decided our choices were not to run any political endorsement letters or to impose a nominal charge. By charging $15 for up to a 7-inch letter, we intend to cover our newsprint costs and level the playing field. People may choose to pay more for a longer letter.
These letters will be clearly marked as paid letters. They will appear online under Milestones.
This policy applies to people endorsing local candidates based on their record, reputation, qualifications or because "she/he is a nice person." In addition, no longer will candidates themselves be able to use the free letters column to outline their platforms or ask for votes.
To place an endorsement letter into this publication, go to the website, click on Milestones, then click on the words "Place a Milestone." This link will take you to six options; choose "Political letters." You then may enter your "headline" in the name box, type your letter and conclude with your name and town.
Please note that we will continue to run free of charge those letters that focus on pertinent, timely issues to our readers. We also will continue to run opinions that might praise or criticize an elected official - provided it isn't campaign season.
As always, we welcome your opinions. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.