At a time when newspapers are on the front lines in the fight against fake news and election tampering, the U.S. Commerce Department is taking action that could threaten profit margins and create job losses at hundreds of media outlets nationwide.
After a preliminary investigation, the Commerce Department said Canadian producers were underpricing newsprint imported into the United States. Most newsprint used in the U.S. is from Canada, the result of active lobbying by printing companies in the United States because of Canada’s natural advantages in producing paper — among them, vast swaths of forests.
The tariffs could threaten and damage media outlets of all sizes — from the Wall Street Journal to the Gazette to the Colorado Springs Business Journal. Tariffs collected by the Commerce Department equal 32 percent, but newspapers could face price increases greater than that as printers pass on the additional costs of producing publications.
The results of the Commerce Department’s investigation move to the International Trade Commission, which will make a final decision in August. But the department isn’t waiting — it can start collecting cash deposits on Canadian imports immediately.
Why now and why newsprint? According to the National Newspaper Association, a small Washington state producer complained. The North Pacific Paper Co. says Canadian producers are violating trade laws because they are receiving government subsidies through loan assistance and permission to harvest trees on government property. Secondly, they were selling paper to the United States at cheaper rates than other countries sell it to the U.S.
The first set of tariffs went into effect in January, with another set in March. The money is being held in escrow until the final decision — but newspapers are already seeing the damage.
There’s no clear correlation between government help in Canada and the drop in demand for newsprint. It’s not due to unfair trade practices. It’s a reality of the marketplace, and no set of tariffs is going to help the North Pacific Paper Co. or any of its U.S. counterparts. Instead, tariffs stand to hurt media outlets that rely on print products.
Adding insult to injury, it’s the small, local papers — those small dailies and weeklies that are the only source for local news in their markets — that will be harmed the most. It will have the greatest impact on those papers with a mission dedicated to local news, and only local news, whose profit margins are thin or nonexistent. Those media are the ones least able to absorb a 32 percent or higher increase in newsprint prices.
Newspapers are more than profit centers, although they do need to cover costs to stay in business. They are businesses with a mission to provide local, fair, balanced news coverage to their readers, to provide a voice to the voiceless, to bring news and analysis of local issues to their readers. While the tariffs could be a win for that single paper mill, they will certainly create a loss for the country as a whole. Voices — conservative, liberal, middle-of-the-road — will be silenced as a result of these tariffs, and communities will be less informed, less knowledgeable, less able to take action without the information they need.
And remember: Without print, there’s no digital product, no digital edition of the paper, no local news. The printed newspapers subsidize the digital products. Lose one, and you lose the other as well.
Keep journalism local — and go to www.stopnewsprinttariffs.org to find out more. n CSBJ