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Editorial: Defending a letter

We spent a fair amount of time late last week explaining a decision to print a letter to the editor from city council candidate David Pritzlaff in the Oct. 30 issue of this newspaper.

Some argued printing the letter was not fair. That by allowing it we had somehow been taken advantage of. Been used by a savvy political operator interested in getting his name out without paying for advertising.

On Monday, candidate Ed Samuelson continued to question the decision. He complained to the Farmington City Council about the letter and about Pritzlaff's decision to write it. We're not sure what he expected council members to do, but it made us think we should take a moment to explain the reasoning behind our decision.

Actually, the reasons are pretty simple. We don't believe choosing to run for office strips a resident of his or her right to express an opinion in our pages. We're confident most newspapers feel the same.

We're all for candidates paying for advertising, and we believe there are advantages to placing paid ads. But we have room for a little free publicity, too. If allowing a candidate to use a letter to the editor in an effort to spread his or her message means we're being taken advantage of, at least we're being used in the way an opinion page is meant to be used.

We ran into some similar questions two years ago. A candidate called to challenge a decision to run a letter from his opponent. We said the same thing then that we say now: we have never prohibited letters to the editor from candidates, though it's rare someone running for office takes advantage of the opportunity. We've never specifically invited them, either. We've just let the situation work it all out. For the most part that hasn't been a problem.

We're all about freedom of expression here. As a newspaper, it's an important part of what we do. And there are bound to be differences of opinion about the way we do it. That's fine. It's part of the process.

There are times when we might err ever so slightly on the side of allowing more expression than some feel comfortable with. We believe in just about all situations it's better to have more discussion.

In all we do, though, we aim to be fair. In this case, we think we have been.