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Rarely-mentioned paper tariffs hurt newspapers most of all

Editor's Note: There has been much discussion about the effect of the Trump tariffs on grain prices and their pending effects on other items that Americans use. But there has been little focus on the tariffs Trump has levied against Canadian newsprint -- the actual paper which is used for every American newspaper.
Here is a discussion of the issue from a veteran publisher who knows the topic and its effects:

National Newspaper Association (NNA) President-Elect Andrew S. Johnson, publisher of the Dodge County (WI) Pioneer, recently told the International Trade Commission that tariffs on Canadian newsprint had inflicted severe damage upon community newspapers.

Johnson appeared with seven other witnesses to oppose 32 percent tariffs assessed against Canadian paper producers by the Department of Commerce earlier this year.

Other witnesses were from Canadian producers and printers or publishers speaking as part of the Stop Tariffs On Printers and Publishers (STOPP) coalition. Tampa Bay Times Publisher Paul Tash joined Johnson as the other newspaper witness, speaking on behalf of his newspaper and the News Media Alliance. NMA has been the organizer and manager of the coalition, of which NNA is a member, with Printing Industries of America and a large group of businesses and associations that use or produce newsprint.

This recent hearing occurred near the end of a dual federal agency examination of the impact of Canadian paper upon U.S. producers of various types of uncoated groundwood paper, which includes newsprint.

A complaint of unfair trade competition was brought last year by NorPac, a Washington State newsprint producer that was purchased recently by a New York investment firm. A decision by ITC is due in mid-August and a final determination by the Department of Commerce on the level of tariffs, if any, will be in September.

Johnson said increases in printing and production prices had already caused him to reduce staff, shrink his newspaper's page size and shutter one office to public access. He discounted speculation in news reports that the Commerce Department believes newspapers can simply raise the price of subscriptions to recoup the tariff costs.

"Absorbing major cost increases is not as simple as marking up the price of a can of soup. We print our newspaper for our readers, but readers do not pay the primary cost of producing a newspaper. Our operating cash comes from local business advertisers .... Expecting my advertisers to pay more is tough," he said. "First, they may be dealing with their own rising newsprint costs if they print their own ads for insertion into my paper. Second, I face advertising competition from Facebook and Google. (Advertisers) cannot pay me much more.

"So what can I do?

"This is what my colleagues tell me they are doing now: they are freezing all hiring and trying to cut pages or page sizes. If they have dailies publishing seven days a week now they may drop to four days ... If the tariffs continue, some publishers say they are considering closing newspapers or selling newspapers."

Johnson said his readers were outraged when they learned that the federal government was putting their local newspaper in jeopardy.

"People in the middle of the country where I live want trade laws that strengthen our communities. The newsprint tariffs do much more harm than good."

Tash said the tariffs were putting newspapers like his into serious trouble.

"At many local newspapers, the water is already at our chins, and these tariffs will push it higher ... Already this year, we laid off 50 employees, including some veteran reporters and editors. Newspapers are hurting and our pain will spread inevitably to our suppliers. Very soon, these tariffs will start harming the very companies they are supposed to protect. That is why almost every American newsprint manufacturer is opposed to them. It's not clear to me why this case was launched, but I do hope the commission will bring it to an end," he said.

NNA President Susan Rowell, publisher of the Lancaster (SC) News, said "the existential threat from these tariffs has mobilized our industry like nothing I have seen in my newspaper career," she said. "We are experiencing historically high increases in production costs, shortages of supply and grave uncertainties because of this terribly unfortunate case. It is hard to see how anyone benefits from this situation."

Interestingly, neither of North Carolina's U.S. senators nor U.S. Rep. George Holding of this district attended the hearings.


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Members Opinions:
August 02, 2018 at 3:06pm
By design maybe!



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