EDITORIAL: New tariffs add 30 percent to the cost of printing news

Marietta, Georgia

(June 24, 2018)

While tariffs on steel and aluminum dominate headlines across the nation, those who print those headlines are feeling the impact of another border tax.

New tariffs on Canadian newsprint are wreaking terrible unintended consequences on America’s community newspapers, the source of local news for millions of people in every city, town and hamlet across the country, and the jobs of more than half a million reporters, editors, advertising and production staffs in the printing industry.

It’s like setting fire to grassroots America.

The crisis began in January when the U.S. Commerce Department imposed a 6.2 percent tariff on imports of newsprint from Canada, which provides most of this essential product to our newspapers. But in March, the tariff was increased by another 22 percent, delivering a virtual body blow to small-town newspapers that are far less able to absorb such a huge cost increase than are large newspapers, although they too have been hit hard.

Already, most newspaper printers have seen up to 30 percent higher cost of newsprint.

The newsprint tariffs follow President Donald Trump’s hardline approach to global trade. Additionally, some believe it is driven by the president’s distaste for what he calls the “liberal media’s fake news.” If the end goal is to curb print journalism, the new tariffs loom as an effective strategy.

At risk are thousands of American jobs. The newspaper, printing and publishing industries support 600,000 jobs, many of them at community newspapers such as the Marietta Daily Journal.

In Georgia alone, newspapers employ 10,000 workers, most on community newspapers. Many of these workers are in jeopardy of losing their jobs if these destructive tariffs are not lifted.

Newsprint is the largest operating cost after payrolls for the vast majority of newspapers. Imagine such a substantial line item in the expense budget suddenly jumping by one-third.

The consequences, as surveys by the News Media Alliance show, are that 70 percent of newspapers expect to take steps to cut consumption of newsprint and about 38 percent are looking at the painful option of reducing workforce.

And it’s already happening. The Tampa Bay Times, Florida’s largest newspaper, recently laid off about 50 employees as the direct result of the tariffs pushing up operating costs by $3 million a year. At the other end of the spectrum is the Ozona Stockman in Ozona, Texas, the seat of Crockett County, population 3,765. Unable to get newsprint from its usual supplier in San Angelo, Stockman employees traveled to two other cities to get newsprint and look for a way to obtain it from another supplier.

This is what the Stockman staff said about the newspaper’s predicament: “Those tariffs are job stealers and newspaper killers throughout the entire state and country.”

The scenario is being played out at community newspapers throughout the country. The Commerce Department’s tariffs resulted from a petition by a single newsprint mill in Washington State, claiming imports from Canada are unfair and injurious to its business. Other than the one company, the publishing, printing, paper and allied industries are solidly opposed to the tariffs and have formed a coalition to fight them.

The Georgia Press Association, of which all parent company Times-Journal newspapers are a member, is part of this coalition, as are state press associations throughout the nation.

Bipartisan legislation has been introduced in Congress to suspend the tariff until a study has been made of the economic wellbeing of the newsprint and local newspaper publishing industry.

One of the co-sponsors of this important legislation is U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia, who zeroed in on the issues involved.

“Local newspapers are a vital source of news and community information, especially in rural and small-town America,” he said. “Unfair or punitive action taken against producers of groundwood paper would threaten to put many Georgia newspapers out of business and could cost up to 1,000 jobs in Georgia.”

That is what we face in Georgia. Elsewhere, the outlook is much the same or worse. We ask our local representatives in the U.S. House to follow in the footsteps of Isakson by putting forward legislation to suspend tariffs imposed on imported groundwood paper from Canada.

The International Trade Commission has scheduled a hearing for July 17 on this tariff and we hope it will be lifted. But relief is needed immediately for newspapers large and small across America.

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