The Observer has instituted a new policy regarding letters to the editor about individual candidates.

We now consider them political advertising and charge to publish them.

We know some people will be angry over this. Please let us explain.

Letters that urge a particular action on a candidate are doing the same thing as political ads. In fact, sometimes candidates or supporters organize letter-writing campaigns, which function as an effort to get free advertising, one of the commodities we sell.

Like any other business, the Observer needs revenue to cover expenses, including the cost of printing pages of political letters. Plus, it’s not fair that candidates have to pay for their ads but others can get out a message against them for free with a letter.

Other newspapers in the country have followed similar practices for years. Close to home, one of our sister papers already declines to print candidate-endorsement letters for free.

Under the new policy, anyone can pay to get a candidate letter in the Observer. Unlike with letters published for free, there is no limit on length or how often writers can put in pieces.

However, the last candidate letter of the election season must run two Sundays before the election so on the last Sunday before the election, candidates have a chance to defend themselves against any attacks.

To be clear, the new policy refers to any opinion piece about a specific candidate or candidates who have announced a run for office in any governmental election open to Sandoval County voters.

We won’t charge to run letters about any other governmental or political subject, including bonds, laws and other measures on the ballot. Free-letter writers can make general statements about all candidates with a particular stance, as long they don’t point to specific candidates.

Letters discussing governmental officials who have not announced candidacy will run for free, as long as they’re not calling for the placement of a candidate on the ballot.

Letters unrelated to politics or elections will still appear for free.

If you’re not sure if your letter will require payment, send it to us for review. We’ll let you know what classification it falls into, and you can get price information and decide on your next steps.

Candidate letters will be marked as paid advertising and appear on various pages. They must be paid for by 5 p.m. on the Wednesday prior to the Sunday when the writer wants them to appear.

Remember, all letters must abide by our longtime rules. They must be signed with the writer’s name and city of residence, and they cannot be libelous, vulgar, obscene or excessively inflammatory.

We will still provide news coverage of elections, candidate declarations and events leading up to elections, including candidate questionnaires published for free.

We will not endorse candidates, so we also will not get free advertising for preferred individuals.

We fully support the right of our fellow community members to exercise freedom of speech. We just ask that if people use our paper to exercise that right by endorsing or opposing a candidate, they help support the production of those pages.

For questions about the policy, contact editor Argen Marie Duncan at [email protected] or 891-7172. For questions about cost or to arrange publication of a candidate letter, email [email protected]; contact Kathy Moore at 823-3358 or [email protected]; or email Cindy Barrett at [email protected].