Sunday, October 14, 2012

Yankton Paper Joins Rapid City Paper In Pay To Publish Folly

The Yankton Press& Dakotan is joining the Rapid City Journal and charging those who wish to have political letters to the editor published during the remainder of this campaign season:
While we encourage legitimate letters to the editor on almost any subject, we’ve made a crucial decision that we believe will and should have an impact on this year’s political season. Letters to the editor endorsing or criticizing political candidates or issues will no longer run for free. The authors will be contacted if contact information is provided, and they will be offered the opportunity to use advertising space for their support or criticism of a candidate or an issue, just as they would have the opportunity to buy air time on radio here in Yankton and the surrounding region. These “letters” will be labeled “paid advertising.” Of course, the writer may choose not to pay to have his or her advertising letter printed.
Sadly, the abuse by some of the candidates and their campaign managers with our “letters to the editor” section has probably stifled some exchange of opinion, but we know of no other way to stop the abuse.
Thanks in advance for your understanding and feel free to contact me with any questions that may arise.
Both publications argue that the fees are necessary because campaigns organize efforts to get letters to the editor published and that the letters constitute free advertising. If I may be trite, allow me to post the following clip that has become de rigueur for situations such as this one.

Not only am I shocked, SHOCKED that politicians would attempt to gain free advertising. I'm also confused about the distaste for "free advertising" for politicians but the acceptance of it for local businesses, some of whom must also buy ads. On October 12th, two days after the paper announced its pay to publish policy, the P&D carried the following letter to the editor from the Yankton Youth Soccer Association:
The Yankton Youth Soccer Association would like to thank the following businesses for their support this soccer season:

Riverfront Dental, Cork and Bottle, Ron’s Autoglass, Collision Center, ATI, Home Federal, Lewis and Clark Specialty Hospital, Becker Body Shop, Midwest Marble, Stepping Stones Daycare, Broadway Chrysler, McDonald’s, KFC/Taco Bell, Vision Care, Menards, Chesterman’s, KPI, Northwestern, Andera Tax Service, Cortrust, Affordable Expressions Photography, Riverside Autobody, Slumberland, Paul’s Kwik Stop, and Brian’s Electric.

Local business support helped to sponsor 39 youth soccer teams from age 4 to age 12. The youth of the Yankton community had a successful season due in part to your support.
Perhaps I am unable to grasp the subtleties of free advertising, but the difference between this letter praising Menards and McDonald's, both national chains, and letter praising either Obama, Romney, or Libertarian Gary Johnson, all national candidates eludes me. Likewise, this letter praises local businesses like Cork and Bottle and Ron's Auto Glass. The difference between this advertising for a business and a letter supporting Bernie Hunhoff or Mike Stevens once again eludes me. (For the record my wife loves Menards; we both buy items from McDonald's Dollar Menu, and appreciate the service that we receive when we patronize Ron's Auto Glass. The preceding sentiments about local businesses are sincere even though the tone may be snarky.)

The truth is that every election story that local media does is free advertising. Candidates at all levels have the opportunity to shape the story and use the local media to their advantage.  The larger truth is that these policies are one more step to creating a political climate totally dominated by the wealthy and the politically connected. Campaigns will now set up a "letters to the editor fund" and give their most loyal and fervent supporters the equivalent of "street money" to pay to publish. Meanwhile, those on tight budgets who get only candidates' limp handshakes, plastic smiles, and empty promises have one more avenue of expression taken away from them.

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