Tariffs on imported newsprint are a potentially crushing blow to local newspapers and their communities

Lancaster, Pennsylvania


(June 10, 2018)

The Trump administration recently imposed two tariffs of up to 32 percent on uncoated groundwood paper imported from Canada, or newsprint — the paper on which LNP and other American newspapers are printed. A coalition of U.S. printers, publishers, newspaper associations, paper suppliers and distributors calling itself STOPP — Stop Tariffs on Printers & Publishers — has formed to oppose the tariffs. The tariffs are the result of lobbying by a single paper supplier, the North Pacific Paper Company, known as NORPAC, in Washington state. It is owned by One Rock Capital, a private equity firm in New York. The tariffs are opposed by other U.S. paper manufacturers and the industry’s trade association, the American Forest & Paper Association. The U.S. International Trade Commission will hold a hearing on the tariffs July 17 before they are made permanent; a final determination is to be made in early August. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, imports of uncoated groundwood paper from Canada in 2016 were valued at an estimated $1.27 billion.

Tariffs on Canadian paper pose an existential threat to community newspapers, including LNP.

And of course this worries those of us who are employed by LNP. But it also should worry you.

Without local newspapers, elected officials would be free to spend your tax money behind closed doors, use their positions for self-enrichment and run roughshod over your interests and those of your fellow citizens without worry of exposure.

The voice of citizens is amplified by local newspapers; your concerns are our concerns. We’re not being lofty when we say we are serious about our Fourth Estate role as watchdogs. Whether the issue is a school board’s machinations in the dark, or a state lawmaker’s alleged history of sexual harassment and assault, newspaper journalists are committed to bringing to light the actions of those charged with doing the public’s business.

Local newspapers tell the stories, too, that knit a community together — stories of the obstacles people are facing, the joys they are celebrating. They tell stories about human connection, about the challenges and triumphs of individuals, schools, businesses, organizations. They cover local sports, the local arts scene, the local economy, local industry. The national newspaper you read on your smartphone won’t deliver any of that coverage.
Newspapers including LNP have made critical changes in an effort to remain a part of the lives of the communities they serve for a long time. But these tariffs have the potential to be crushing.

As the San Francisco Chronicle’s editorial page editor, John Diaz, wrote in May, “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 (Florida) announced (in April) that it would be laying off about 50 workers as a direct result of a $3.4 million annual increase in newsprint costs.”

That newspaper’s CEO, Paul Tash, warned readers in a letter: “Make no mistake: These tariffs will cause layoffs across American newspapers.”

NORPAC has about 300 employees. These tariffs put at risk an estimated 600,000 other American jobs in newspaper and book publishing and commercial printing.

So we laud Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey for co-sponsoring legislation aimed at suspending these potentially devastating tariffs.

A news release on Toomey’s website explains: “The bipartisan Protecting Rational Incentives in Newsprint Trade Act of 2018 (PRINT Act) calls on the U.S. Department of Commerce to suspend the collection of duties and to conduct a study into the economic health of the U.S. newspaper and publishing industries. Following the completion of this study, the president would be required to review the study and certify that such a tax on imported UGW paper is in the best interest of the country.”

Said Toomey: “American companies must be allowed to adequately and fairly source materials, especially when those items are not produced domestically. The newspaper and publishing industries are facing unprecedented challenges and the tax on UGW paper could spell the end of numerous publishers across Pennsylvania. As the Commerce Department and ITC continue their investigation, we want to ensure that this tax is actually warranted and necessary before imposing such a detrimental financial burden on downstream industries.”

Sixteen other senators — Democratic, Republican and independent — have joined Toomey as co-sponsors of the PRINT Act; Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine is the bill’s prime sponsor.
We urge Democratic Sen. Bob Casey to join the effort. And we hope to see Congressman Lloyd Smucker push similar legislation in the U.S. House.

As Mark Cohen, president of the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, wrote in an op-ed published in LNP on April 6, the United States “does not produce enough newsprint for the U.S. market to survive.” Affordable Canadian paper has been the most viable option to keep
“printed news alive and flourishing,” he noted.

These tariffs may prove to be not just a game-changer but a game-ender.

And they won’t just hurt newspapers, causing some of them to print on fewer days or to make their publications completely digital.

They are likely to affect the prices of books and magazines, and put still more publishers out of business. For what reason?
So that one paper company, and its private equity firm owners, might profit.

“Were it left to me to decide if we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter,” Thomas Jefferson famously wrote.

The Trump administration now appears to be OK with the prospect of putting some newspapers out of business. We should wonder why. And for the sake of the long-term health of our communities, we shouldn’t allow it.

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