A few words on endorsement letters

By The Mercury

During last fall’s general election, The Mercury began charging 15 cents per word for letters in support of or opposed to any candidates on the ballot or any election issues on the ballot.

We will continue that policy for the spring municipal elections. In fact, about a week ago we published on this page a paid letter to voters from one of the City Commission candidates, and an endorsement letter appears today.

We instituted the policy because over the years, such letters, which had represented the thoughts and work of individual writers, became the products of formal and informal committees working for candidates or issues. Campaign staffs sometimes solicited letters from supporters, often simply by party affiliation, and at other times sought supporters who would allow their names to be used on letters the campaigns generated.

These letters sometimes came in sufficient quantity that they occupied space that could have gone to local letters on other topics or to the editorials from other newspapers on timely issues.

As is the case with all letters to the editor, we urge those who write endorsement letters to be brief. To repeat, the cost will be 15 cents per word, with payment to precede publication. These letters will be published under a separate heading on the editorial or, if necessary, on the op-ed page to identify them as endorsement letters. If campaigns rather than individuals pay for the letters, that will be reflected at the end of the letter.

Because the ballots for Manhattan’s spring election will contain candidates’ names but no specific issues for voters to decide, writers are welcome to comment on city or school district policies without charge. Writers also can comment without charge on any state issues that overlap with local issues, such as school finance.

Also, of course, there will be no charge for neutral letters during the campaign that, for example, urge residents to vote or to otherwise become involved in the process. Endorsement letters must include the writer’s name and postal address, and will be expected to adhere to the same standards as other letters: No libel, personal name-calling or unsubstantiated statements of erroneous “fact.” Writers otherwise will enjoy the same leeway they do now, and letters will be edited lightly. Also as is the case now, Mercury editors will write the headlines.

Endorsement letters will be accepted through 5 p.m. Friday, March 29, and will be published through Sunday, March 31. The election is Tuesday, April 2.

We encourage all citizens to learn about the candidates and to cast informed ballots.

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