By David McKinley
America's newspapers are fighting for their lives. With the rise of the internet, the industry has faced enormous challenges as people have changed how they access news, which results in diminishing subscriber and advertiser revenue streams.
This has had a particularly negative impact on rural America, which depends on their paper for local news. In small communities, the paper provides the main source for information and current events. But more than that, it connects neighboring communities with each other and with the rest of our country.
But now, America's newspapers face another existential threat to their survival: new tariffs on imports of Canadian newsprint. So how did this threat to America's newspapers come about?
Earlier this year, the Department of Commerce -- responding to a petition filed by North Pacific Paper Company (NORPAC), a Wall Street-owned paper mill based in Washington State, assessed preliminary tariffs totaling approximately 30 percent on newsprint imported from Canada. The Department of Commerce was following U.S. trade laws and acted on NORPAC's complaint that subsidized Canadian newsprint is being dumped into America at low prices.
NORPAC is one of five paper mills still operating in the United States who combined can only fulfill 34 percent of the nation's newsprint demands. Additionally, three of those five mills are in Washington State. Within the industry, it's known that it's not economically efficient to ship newsprint across the country. The rest of America's newspapers rely on the two mills in the Southeast or Canada to fulfill their needs.
None of the other mills, or the newspapers they service, have supported NORPAC's petition.
As a result of this action, papers across the country face significant cost increases from these tariffs. The impact varies by newspaper, with wide ranges from two cents to 10 cents in increased paper costs on a per newspaper copy basis, depending upon the size of the paper and location. According to the Pew Research Center, there are 33 million papers printed daily. Using a cost increase from the middle of the range at 3.5 cents, this amounts to a $421 million annual loss of revenue to the industry if the tariffs remain in place.
Because of a declining market, papers are not able to pass these costs on to consumers, leaving them with limited options to make up the lost revenue. Increasing advertising rates isn't an economical option, so they can: publish fewer pages, reduce the number of days they print, reduce the size of the page, and move distribution from print to digital-only. This will harm the US paper companies that the tariffs are supposed to help.
The tariffs will also accelerate the loss of U.S. jobs in journalism. According to a recent survey of newspapers by the News Media Alliance, 46 percent said they likely will be reducing staff as their solution by an average of two and a half positions. Newspapers had already been losing nearly 2,000 jobs per year, and this will only exacerbate the problem. Many papers are operating on a bare-bone staff as it is. West Central Publishing in St. Mary's, W.Va., operates with a staff of 17, but are planning on cutting one position due to these ITC tariffs. This goes much further than one smaller publisher. This will affect the nearly 1,300 daily and 6,000 weekly newspapers nationwide. For instance, the Tampa Bay Times has announced its cutting 50 jobs. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
These tariffs will be particularly felt in rural states, where small newspaper operations will have to scale back. In West Virginia, the Ogden Newspaper chain is seeing its costs increase exponentially, leading them to consider cutting days and laying off employees. The Exponent Telegram in Clarksburg, W.Va., has stopped its' Monday edition, and is considering other cost-saving measures due to the tariffs.
These preliminary tariffs were implemented to "protect" roughly 300 jobs at NORPAC, but the impact on the newspaper industry is profound. With nearly 7,300 newspapers in America, if half lay off employees, the job loss will far exceed the savings for one company and could be staggering.
Look, the newsprint industry has struggled due to declining demand and major cultural changes in the ways consumers get their news, not unfair trade practices. Fortunately, the independent, International Trade Commission, can reverse these tariffs by reaching a negative determination in this case. With NORPAC, the ITC made a decision that is having unintended consequences on the rest of the industry. The Commission will have a public hearing on this issue in Washington on July 17 to hear from interested parties on why these misguided and injurious tariffs should be reversed. We hope that common sense in this unique case, and American jobs will be protected at newspapers and paper producers.