OPINION: Tariffs on newsprint will hurt American journalism
There are many challenges facing newspapers in America today, whether it's meeting revenue budgets, an aging readership base or our self-imposed difficulties in adapting to the digital age.
Given those difficulties, we hardly need one more thing to worry about.
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 a steeper tariff on newsprint imported from Canada, a move that could jeopardize newspapers across the country, which rely on Canadian paper products to print their newspapers — including The Sandy Post and Estacada News.
As journalists, we're not comfortable talking about ourselves.
We'd much rather write about what's going on in our communities, rather than take center stage with the spotlight turned toward us.
But even in an age when community newspapers are viewed favorably as a vital component of a strong community, newspapers continue to close across the country. These tariffs don't help.
The tariffs were the brain child of Northern Pacific Paper (NORPAC), 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 — the paper this newspaper is printed on — according to News Media Alliance, an organization opposed to the tariffs.
That's not tenable for many newspapers, 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.
Canadian paper has helped keep newspapers alive into the 21st century, but these tariffs will mean rising costs for newspapers across the country, which rely on Canadian paper products to print the very newspaper you're holding right now.
Have you appreciated the coverage of programs within the Oregon Trail or Estacada school districts, of local scholars and athletes, or promotional stories for community events, such as the Sandy Chamber's Music Fair and Feast or the Estacada Timber Festival?
It's this type of community-based news and feature coverage that's put at risk.
It's not just newspapers in the cross hairs. Book publishers, paper merchants, anyone that relies on groundwood paper will be impacted by these changes.
Here at the Sandy Post and Estacada News, we're working to keep many of those negative impacts from reaching you.
But it's undeniable that impacts on newspapers everywhere will have results on the local communities they serve when stories about school boards, city councils, planning commissions and more 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 and advertisers, 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. 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.
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 in this week's editions of the Sandy Post and Estacada News, you'll start seeing ads encouraging — OK, begging — readers to submit a letter to the ITC or members of Congress in opposition to these tariffs. (In Oregon, U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Hood River, especially needs to hear from you.)
These tariffs are bad for us. They're bad for you.
Help us stop them.