Archive for California

Don’t just reduce newsprint tariffs; eliminate them (Editorial)

Syracuse, California

By Editorial Board
(August 9, 2018)

The Trump administration reduced tariffs on newsprint that are damaging our fragile industry, but it should have gone farther and eliminated them altogether.

Now, our hopes for an end to the tariffs rest on the International Trade Commission, which will decide an appeal later this month.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Commerce Department slapped punitive tariffs – as high as 22 percent — on specialty paper made in Canada. It was acting on a complaint from a single paper mill in the Pacific Northwest. The decision ignored the fact that newsprint production is practically non-existent in the eastern United States, due to the decline of the print newspaper industry over the past 10 years and the rise in demand for paperboard boxes driven by online retailers like Amazon.

The tariffs have done a lot of damage already, leading to layoffs and reduced print offerings in cities like Buffalo and Tampa. Small community newspapers are especially vulnerable to the spike in newsprint costs. It’s not an exaggeration to say some of them will go out of business if the tariffs stand. That would be a devastating loss to their communities and to the health of our democracy, which depends on a free and vibrant press to inform citizens and to be a government watchdog.

Sen. Charles Schumer and our delegation in the House of Representatives have been fighting to get the tariffs eliminated. They succeeded in getting the tariffs reduced, to a maximum of 16.88 percent. It should be zero because there is no economic justification for a tariff of any amount.

Now, lobbying efforts shift to the U.S. International Trade Commission, an independent federal agency. We urge the commission to cancel the newsprint tariffs altogether.

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Newsprint tariffs hit newspapers hard

San Francisco, California

By John Diaz
(May 17, 2018)

“Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel,” the saying goes. Yet the Trump administration is picking a fight with American newspapers over something they buy at even greater cost and quantity: newsprint.

The administration recently slapped tariffs and anti-dumping penalties on imported Canadian paper, resulting in newsprint price increases of up to 30 percent in the United States. I will give President Trump the benefit of the doubt here and assume this is not another attack on the free press from the man who has called journalists “enemies of the American people” and has alternately threatened to jail them, revoke their credentials and use government powers to undermine their owners’ business interests.

I will take the administration at its word that it is merely trying to save American jobs at a paper mill that claims unfair foreign competition.

It’s an indefensible move even by that standard.

The Trump administration’s protectionist measures were taken in response to a trade complaint from a single company, Norpac, a Longview, Wash., paper mill that employs about 300 nonunion workers. Norpac, acquired in 2016 by the New York hedge fund One Rock Capital, alleged that its Canadian competitors benefited from 34 government subsidy programs, from cut-rate electricity to timber harvests on government-owned forests.

This dubious attempt to shield a few hundred paper-mill jobs from foreign competition is creating serious pain for a U.S. publishing industry that employs 600,000 workers.

Newsprint is the second-largest expense for American newspapers, surpassed only by payroll. The price jumps have been immediate and severe — as has the loss of jobs. The Tampa Bay Times of St. Petersburg, Fla., announced last month that it would be laying off about 50 workers as a direct result of a $3.4 million annual increase in newsprint costs.

“Make no mistake: These tariffs will cause layoffs across American newspapers, including this one,” Times CEO Paul Tash said in a letter to readers.

The cost to democracy goes beyond the payroll numbers. Fewer journalists means fewer eyes and ears on the city councils and school boards, fewer investigative reporters in pursuit of government neglect and malfeasance, fewer stories on the triumphs and tragedies in our communities. It’s also important to note that newspapers continue to have the largest news-gathering staffs in cities small to large, markets local to national, and their work typically drives broadcast news and commentary.

“If you want to silence a free press, take away the newsprint,” Susan Rowell, publisher of the Lancaster (S.C.) News and president of the National Newspaper Association, said in a statement. “That is what is happening now, and it is simply wrong.”

Responding to a chorus of such concerns, two Maine senators, Republican Susan Collins and independent Angus King, have introduced legislation (S2835) to suspend the tariffs on uncoated groundwater paper from Canada, the primary source of newsprint. It would require the Commerce Department to undertake a study of the economic state of both the newsprint industry and the local newspaper publishing industry before determining whether the tariffs actually are in the national interest.

“Throughout Maine, small-town newspapers remain a principal source of information for people looking to read the news, learn about the goings-on in their communities and stay up to date on current events,” King said. He noted that the U.S. newspaper business and paper manufacturers are “already operating on razor-thin margins.”

The Collins-King bill has attracted bipartisan co-sponsorship. Californians need to press their Democratic senators, Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, to get on board. Time is of the essence. The U.S. International Trade Commission is expected to decide by mid-September whether to make the tariffs final; a verdict on the anti-dumping decision by Commerce could come in August.

There is ample reason to doubt the Norpac paper mill’s complaint that its woes are because of foreign competition. Collins suggested that “one domestic mill owned by a venture capital firm appears to be taking advantage of trade remedies to add to its own bottom line, putting thousands of American jobs at risk.”

In telling testimony, Russ Lowder of White Birch Paper said his company’s closing of its Virginia mill had nothing to do with Canadian imports. Rather, he said the fate of the paper business was inextricably tied to the decline of the newspaper industry: subscriptions have dropped, and demand has followed.

He said White Birch had considered buying Norpac in 2016, before it was scooped up by a hedge fund, but concluded its “operations faced a number of challenges that had nothing to do with imports.”

Obviously, I and everyone else who makes a living at an American newspaper have a vested interest in the outcome of this trade dispute. The Chronicle uses more than 10,000 metric tons of newsprint a year and is taking a hit from this huge price increase. This newspaper is determined to offset that cost with production efficiencies and revenue growth.

The impact could be far more devastating — and permanent — to small-town newspapers that have fewer options to pare costs or raise revenue.

I should emphasize that I approached this issue on my own, without any prodding from the Hearst Corp., which has owned The Chronicle since late 2000, and has been true to its word that its editorial decisions would be insulated from its business interests.

My concern is driven by the never-ending evidence that trade barriers are ultimately counterproductive to the economy, and often result in unintended consequences. Again, I am going on the assumption that the undermining of the ability of a free press to serve as a check on those in power is an unforeseen casualty of this Trump administration policy.

It’s gratifying that a group of senators is on the case to stop these ill-advised tariffs that are bad for the economy and bad for our democracy.

Serious threats to independent journalism
The newsprint tariffs come at a time when newspapers large and small are faced with myriad other economic stresses.

Bottom feeding
Digital First Media

What’s happening: From Boston to San Jose, the company controlled by a hedge fund has been eviscerating newsrooms even as it racked up $160 million in profit (a 17 percent margin) last year.

Why it matters: The cost to local watchdog reporting is immense. The Denver Post once had a staff of 300; with the latest cuts (a third of its staff) it will have about 65 journalists and support staff.

Upshot: In a remarkable rebellion, the Post editorialized last month against its “vulture capitalist” ownership. “They’ve killed a great newspaper,” former owner Dean Singleton said later in resigning as the newspaper’s chairman.

Advertising decline
Salt Lake Tribune

What’s happening: Citing a 40 percent drop in advertising revenue, 34 of the newspaper’s 90 staffers were laid off or retired last week, including seasoned reporters and columnists.

Why it matters: Not only will it have fewer journalists pursing stories, the state’s largest newspaper is eliminating its high-profile Utah news sections three days a week.

Upshot: Local ownership is not a panacea. The paper was purchased in 2016 by Paul Huntsman, son of the late industrialist-philanthropist Jon Huntsman Sr., a 2012 GOP presidential candidate.

Copyright: San Francisco Chronicle. Reprinted with Permission

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Paper Tariffs Will Hurt Journalism

Truckee, California

By: Mayumi Elegado, Moonshine Ink Staff

(April 12, 2018)

They say, “All’s fair in love and war,” but kicking a man when he’s down defies the gentlemanly code of ethics. As far as the world of American journalism goes, the Trump administration is guilty as charged.

Early this year, President Donald Trump got busy slapping tariffs on imports from a variety of industries, including solar panels, washing machines, steel, aluminum, and paper. At one point, he tweeted “trade wars are good, and easy to win.” But as he found out with the health care overhaul once he got involved in the details, he may realize trade wars aren’t a simple matter. Who wins under his “America First” policy is complex; sometimes the losers outnumber the winners even within our own borders when tariffs are instituted. A pattern in his system of new tariffs is listening to one part of the industry — often just one company — to the detriment of the whole.

In this case, one small paper mill in Washington State, whose parent company is owned by a New York-based hedge fund, is trying to use the federal trade and tariff laws to make newsprint as much as 50 percent more expensive. This mill, NORPAC, complained to the U.S. Department of Commerce and International Trade Commission that Canadian paper mills had an unfair advantage due to subsidies from their government and that they were selling paper too cheaply.

Yet, not one other U.S. paper mill supported the petition for these tariffs. The American Forest and Paper Industry opposes it as well. NORPAC employs 260 workers. Compare that to over 600,000 U.S. jobs in the newspaper publishing and commercial printing sectors across the country.

If this effort succeeds — and it’s currently looking that way — the prices of newspaper printing will rise steeply, affecting the paper you hold in your hands. The resources available for everything else we want to do for our community will be made more difficult.

The price of the newsprint Moonshine Ink is printed on will go up 30 percent soon, says our press. While prices have fluctuated over the years, an increase this rapid is unprecedented. “I’ve been doing this 20 years. That big of a percentage jump has never happened,” said Paul Hunting, production director and circulation director at Gold Country Printing.

The implications are dire and affect more than just our company or other small-town compatriots. As more and more newspapers across the country have to cut back on reporters due to declining revenues or in this case increasing costs, coverage of our legislative halls dwindles. Testifying before Congress in 2009 on the business crisis in journalism, David Simon, creator of The Wire and former journalist, lamented the decline of statehouse reporting: “The next 10 to 15 years will be halcyon days for local corruption. It’s going to be a great time to be a corrupt politician.”

Now we’re looking at the potential shuttering of even more news media outlets.

“We are painfully aware that some newspapers will not survive this upheaval,” said Susan Rowell, National Newspaper Association President and publisher of the Lancaster News in South Carolina. “For those who do, it will be at the expense of a diminished news mission.”

This worries me. If it worries you, please visit and get informed. Then let your congressional representative know that the Trade Commission should consider repealing this tariff. For those in California’s 4th District, that’s R-Tom McClintock, 2206A Douglas Blvd., Suite 240, Roseville, CA, 95661, (916) 786-5560.

The danger is real.

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Ink on dead wood

Highland, California

By: James Folmer

(March 28, 2018)

I first heard the expression “ink on dead wood” from a hot-shot web designer from Lawrence, Kan., at a weekend of newspaper training in 2006.

I had an instant connection with the designer. Between my junior and senior years in high school I spent a summer at the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas, which is in Lawrence.

He not only ran the website for the Lawrence Journal World, he ran another devoted to the Jayhawks basketball team and a third that detailed the arrest records of past and present players.

He told me that more people read my newspaper on our website than in print. It was true, and rather disturbing. The website was rudimentary, put together by a web designer at our big sister paper in a nearby city.

Call me old-fashioned, but I still prefer to read a real newspaper instead of a website. I’ve been getting the Los Angeles Times delivered to my home for decades. And although I read every word in the Highland Community News before publication, I still get excited when I see it in print.

While the newspaper workforce has been reduced by more than a third during the past decade, thanks to endless consolidations of chains and closures of many excellent publications, a decision by the U.S. Commerce Department could push more of them over the edge.

It issued a preliminary ruling on March 13 in a case brought by the North Pacific Print Company, known as NORPAC, that calls for tariffs of up to 22.16 percent on Canadian newsprint.

Like the tariffs on steel and aluminum, it is unlikely that U.S. newsprint companies can ramp up to meet the demand. U.S. mills are already at 97 percent capacity, according to the National Newspaper Association. Paper from that small mill in Washington is 50 percent more expensive than Canadian newsprint.

For years, U.S. publishers have invested in Canadian mills to take advantage of hydroelectric power and water-lane shipping. It would take millions of dollars and years for U.S. mills to negotiate the labyrinth of environmental regulations.

As newspapers have folded, the U.S. demand has fallen by 75 percent in the past decade — not a trend that would inspire investors.

So why not just go digital? Because, despite the trend, hard copy advertising and readership still represents 90 percent of our revenue, which pays for the website. If you don’t have a newspaper, you don’t get local news in any form.

This reminds me of another expression I heard recently: Saying you don’t need a newspaper because you get your news on the Internet is like saying you don’t need farmers because you get your food from the supermarket.

p.s. Go Jayhawks!

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