Letters provide readers with a forum for public discourse

Friday December 8 2017

A letter

A letter. Some newspapers in America do, in fact, charge for letters that promote candidates, companies, or products. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

He complained that the Nation pays for articles but not letters to the editor.

He wanted contributors to letters to the editor page paid as well.

“I know Nation will be quick to argue that it’s against the company policy to pay for letters to the editor,” said Ashford Gikunda, an English teacher, author, and regular contributor to the ‘Mailbox’.

“However, we’re living in a very dynamic world. I’ve read objective pieces by Mailbox contributors who burn midnight oil to build the nation by contributing unsolicited views.

"They sacrifice their time and use their resources to fill up a page.”

 I told him no newspaper in the world pays for letters to the editor. “When you say ‘no newspaper in the world that I know of pays the writers,’ you miss the point,” he retorted.

“The conventional wisdom is no longer the yardstick for measuring success. Must the Nation copy what everybody else is doing? Do you mean the letters to the editor add no value to your publication?

"To dismiss my views simply because nobody else does it is to be short-sighted.”


Mr Gikunda argued that many multinationals are closing up shop because of turning a deaf ear to dissenting views.

“When Equity Bank caused disturbance in the banking sector, many dismissed it as a passing cloud.

Equity Bank expanded the banking hours and brought their services to the customers’ doorsteps. Barclays Bank had views like yours, ‘no bank in the world that I know operates past 3.30pm’.

Today, through my suppressed voice, the Nation is faced with a similar situation.

Peter Mwaura, the Public Editor, has chosen to be on the wrong side of history. Just watch this space. Good night.”


Thus he dismissed my explanation. However, it remains true that letters-to-the-editor pages are a service to readers.

They provide a venue for participating in public discourse.

They also enable readers to “talk back” to editors. Readers value the pages because they give them a direct voice.

Using the pages, they can communicate freely, exchange information, ideas and opinions.

To ask to be paid for writing a letter to the editor is the equivalent of asking to be paid for speaking in a baraza or chama.

If anything, some readers should pay for using letters to promote their own causes.


Some newspapers in America do, in fact, charge for letters that promote candidates, companies, or products.

The Columbia Tribune, a daily newspaper in Columbia, Missouri, charges $25 (about Sh2,500) for letters of up to 100 words, plus $0.50 per word after that.

The Rapid City Journal, published in the second most populous city in South Dakota, charges $15 (about Sh1,500) per letter.

The Signal, a newspaper in California, charges $0.10 per word; that means if a letter is as long as this article, it charges about Sh7,000.

Jason Schaff, executive editor of The Signal, explains why they charge for letters: “We initiated this policy because frankly management at The Signal feels that the newspaper was being used by campaigns to gain publicity for their candidates.

“We’ve been getting dozens of letters in letter-writing campaigns that read like ads, just getting the candidate’s name out there and not really engaging any issues.”

He says it’s not a money-making idea.


“The 10-cent per word fee will just simply pay for additional pages in the paper if needed,” he says.

“That way we can guarantee that all letters received will be run, assuming they are not libellous or violate any bad-taste rules.

“If we get dozens of political letters, we’ll be able to run dozens of letters and still have room in our regular letters to the editor section for issue-based letters.”

As I write this I’m looking at the letters page of the Daily Nation of December 7.

There’s this “short takes” letter headed “Painkiller pain.” It looks like a cleverly disguised ad.

If the Nation were The Signal, it is a possible candidate for payment, if it’s done at the behest of a pharmaceutical company.

There may be other candidates.

Send your complaints to [email protected] Text or call 0721 989 264.