Tariffs on newsprint could hurt American journalism
There are many challenges facing newspapers in America today. Whether it's dwindling advertising revenue, an aging readership base or our self-imposed difficulties in adapting to the digital age, newspapers across the country are struggling to stay afloat.
But one new problem has reared up in recent months, which threatens to have a major impact on newspapers across the country.
The problem is paper.
Officials in Washington, D.C., are considering slapping steep tariffs on newsprint imported from Canada, a move that could jeopardize newspapers across the country, who rely on Canadian paper products to print their newspapers — including this one.
As journalists, we're not comfortable talking about ourselves.
We'd much rather write about what's going on in our communities, rather than stand center stage with the spotlight turned toward us.
But in an age when newspapers are closing across the country, and reporters find themselves in the unemployment line as news organizations — including Pamplin Media Group — have turned to layoffs as a way to stay afloat, we can't ignore the issue any longer.
The tariffs were the brain child of Northern Pacific Paper, a Longview, Wash., mill with about 250 employees. Last summer, NORPAC asked the federal government to impose steep tariffs on Canadian newsprint as a way to level the playing field for U.S. paper manufacturers.
The company, which is owned by New York hedge fund One Rock Capital Partners, has argued that Canadian companies are already subsidized by their government, which has created unfair conditions and injured NORPAC's business.
In January, the U.S. Department of Commerce agreed to impose preliminary duties on Canadian newsprint. Now, the proposed tariffs move to the International Trade Commission, which is considering the issue.
Combined, the tariffs could mean U.S. newspapers pay up to 32 percent more for newsprint, according to News Media Alliance, an organization opposed to the tariffs.
That's not tenable for many newsrooms, which have already tightened their belts to bone-breaking levels.
No other mills have supported the company's claims for tariffs. In fact, its petitions were opposed by the American Forest and Paper Industry. The reason is simple: While the tariffs may be good for NORPAC's bottom line, they clearly aren't good for newspapers and other paper consumers across the country.
It's an issue we've seen play out locally in another field. SolarWorld, the world's largest solar manufacturer, is based in Hillsboro. It made a similar request to the federal government last year, saying Chinese-made solar products were flooding the market, drowning U.S. manufacturers, which couldn't keep up with the cheaper made foreign products.
President Donald Trump agreed to impose the tariffs on foreign solar panels earlier this year, after the ITC ruled that solar companies in the U.S. were being harmed, citing years of abuse by Chinese companies.
The difference is that many newspapers rely on Canadian newsprint to stay in business.
Canadian paper has helped keep newspapers alive into the 21st century, but these tariffs will mean rising costs for newspapers across the country. In fact, Canadian paper was used to print the very newspaper you're holding right now.
It's not just newspapers in the cross hairs of these tariffs. Book publishers, paper merchants, anyone that relies on groundwood paper will be impacted by these changes.
Here in Washington County, we're working to keep as many of those negative impacts from reaching as we can. Changes to the Hillsboro Tribune and News-Times earlier this year were made, partly, help offset these impacts.
But it is undeniable that impacts on these newspapers will have results on local communities. The resulting increase in paper costs will have a direct impact on readers across the country.
Newspapers like ours rely on advertising revenue to keep the lights on. Those revenues have been cut in half, nationally, over the last decade. That means less print advertising, and less newsprint. And that means less local reporting.
School boards, city councils, planning commissions and more will increasingly go uncovered. Local news, good and bad — whether success stories in classrooms or community members in need of help — will go unwritten.
You are reading this newspaper, presumably, because you care about the content you see inside. But while we have fought hard to keep our newspapers affordable and accessible for readers, while reporting the news and features that readers care about, the fact of the matter is that we are a business with overhead costs, just like any other.
There's no easy way to absorb a 32 percent cost increase, putting newspapers in a difficult spot. Do you raise prices on readers? On advertisers? Do you cut back on the number of pages in the newspaper, thereby keeping information from readers? Do you cut staff to save costs?
It's a no-win scenario. Readers suffer. Advertisers suffer. Our employees suffer.
Already, as newspapers tighten their belts, the demand for newsprint in North America has dropped 75 percent since 2000. That's not due to unfair trade.
Some congressional leaders in Washington, D.C., have opposed the tariffs, saying they could cost 600,000 jobs in America's commercial printing and newspaper publishing industries.
Those congressional leaders include Republicans Lindsey Graham, Susan Collins and others, who joined Democrats and independents against the plan.
The fate of many newspapers lies with the International Trade Commission, which has the power to stop the trade case. But we need the public's help to make that happen. Starting today, you'll start seeing ads in our newspaper encouraging — OK, begging — readers to submit a letter to the ITC or members of Congress in opposition to these tariffs.
These tariffs are bad for us. They're bad for you.
Help us stop them.
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