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!