(June 27, 2018)
Our third president once famously declared that we’d be better off having “newspapers without a government” than “a government without newspapers.” While Thomas Jefferson may have been engaging in a bit of hyperbole, his point was clear: that newspapers are vital watchdogs for the people; that the press is not at all the “enemy of the American people” that our 45th president has called it.
In that light, it is disturbing to learn that Donald Trump’s Administration has decided to slap tariffs of up to 32 percent on newsprint imported from Canada. This will drive up costs on an industry that is already vulnerable because of declining readership as the public gradually moves to online sources of information and entertainment.
While a handful of big-city papers may face no immediate threat, medium-size and small newspapers across the country have been closing, some after more than a century of publication, leaving their communities with no reliable, daily source of local news; turning towns and cities into “news deserts.”
But isn’t this simply a case of the newspaper industry trying to protect its own interests? We would argue that there’s more at stake here; that newspapers, whether in print or online, provide the vital function of serving as both community bulletin boards and watchdogs on local and state government. How else will citizens learn of crime, corruption or other bad actions going on in the schools, the police department, Town Hall, or the state Capitol?
It should be noted that this tariff plan was formulated in response to the complaints of just one American paper mill, NORPAC, whose location in remote Washington state suggests that it may be the high cost of shipping its product to the rest of the country, rather than the relatively small government subsidies provided by Canada, that is cutting into its bottom line.
Representative of Connecticut newspapers — including the RJ Media group, owner of the Record-Journal and The Westerly Sun, in Rhode Island — have urged the state’s congressional delegation to oppose the new tariffs, which would also be harmful to book publishers and commercial printers.
We oppose the new tariffs on paper, which we believe will further damage our civic culture.