By: Michael Campbell | Twitter: @itsthesoup
Posted: July 31, 2018 | 1:10 p.m.
‘Local news-gathering jeopardized’ due to tariffs, Virginia delegation says
VIRGINIA – In recent months, the Trump Administration has placed billions of dollars in tariffs on various goods, including steel, aluminum, and various non-consumer products, resulting in other nations placing retaliatory tariffs on goods in response.
Among those tariffs, newsprint, the lifeblood of the newspaper industry has been, has been impacted by recent tariffs imposed on Canadian paper imports, with United Kingdom-based Financial Times reporting prices for newsprint having risen nearly 20 percent in the past year to nearly $650 per ton.
According to the Financial Times’ reporting, in the eyes of American printers and publishers, the over 30 percent jump in importing costs to the United States is being blamed on a petition that was filed last summer by Washington-based North Pacific Paper Company, who the FT reports that NORPAC claimed their business was being harmed by the cheaper Canadian newsprint making it into the United States markets.
For many newsrooms, the increased costs of newsprint are being cited as the primary reason for the scaling down of operations, with some papers making job cuts, such as the Tampa Bay Times in Florida, or others who have chosen to reduce their printing costs, such as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette who has opted to not print two days a week beginning next month.
Those financial pains are being felt locally in area newsrooms across the Commonwealth and the concerns have made their way to the desk and phone lines of Congressman Donald McEachin, who joined a number of Washington leaders in expressing serious concerns about tariffs on newsprint and their impacts on local news organizations.
“We support efforts to fight illegal trade practices and guarantee a level playing field for American companies,” the Virginia delegation said in a letter last week, made up of McEachin, Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, and Representatives Bob Goodlatte, Bobby Scott, Gerald Connolly, Donald Beyer, Jr., and Barbara Comstock. “However, we are concerned the tariffs on uncoated groundwood paper from Canada will cause long-term harm to domestic newsprint manufacturers and consumers.”
The delegation’s statement continued, “There are nearly 200 daily and weekly newspapers in Virginia. An increase of up to 35 percent in costs due to these tariffs cannot be absorbed by newspapers and printers; current tariffs are already reducing the frequency and size of publication for many newspapers. This leads to higher prices for readers, businesses, and advertisers and is already causing a loss of jobs in the printing and publishing industry at the local level. If these tariffs become permanent, these harmful trends will become ever more pronounced.”
Newspaper publishers have been vocal about the impact these tariffs have had on their operations, which are already feeling the effects of lower circulation numbers and reduced advertising dollars.
“Tariffs on newsprint increase our operating costs at a time when the local news industry is experiencing historic and competitive challenges from organic market forces,” Mark Zieman, vice president of operations at McClatchy, which operates 29 newspapers, told publication Politico. “These tariffs for local news are unnecessary, unfortunate and ill-considered.”
In a letter speaking to the petition by NORPAC that many printers and publishers feel is the cause of the current tariffs, 20 members of Congress stated that many other newsprint manufacturers are opposed to NORPAC’s petition.
“NORPAC is an outlier, owned by a New York hedge fund operator, with no additional pulp or paper operations in the United States or globally,” the letter read. “In contrast, the majority of U.S. newsprint manufacturers, and even the national trade association for the U.S. forest and paper industry, the American Forest and Paper Association, as well as their major U.S. customers, oppose NORPAC’s petitions.”
The letter further explained the reality of the ongoing and steady transition to digital platforms for news being seen across the United States and globally.
“Accordingly, there has been decreased demand for newsprint in North America given this structural shift in media and advertising. Since the year 2000, North American newsprint demands have declined by over 75 percent.”
The letter continues, “Notwithstanding the decline in demand, people in small towns all over America still depend on their local newspapers. These petitions threaten to put those newspapers out of business and cut off rural and small-town America form their local news.”
Those sentiments were shared by the Virginia congressional delegation last week in their letter to the United States International Trade Commission and its chairman, David Johanson.
“Local newsgathering is also jeopardized by these tariffs, which is where so many small Virginia communities will be affected: they rely heavily on their local papers for coverage, and those papers are already struggling to operate on razor-thin margins,” their letter said. “Our democracy cannot function unless citizens are informed and engaged; without strong community newspapers, that kind of engagement would be vastly more difficult.”
According to the Financial Times, the newspaper industry has made its case to do away with the tariffs to the United States Department of Commerce, who is expected to make its ruling in early August, with the United States International Trade Commission’s final vote on said tariffs expected by the end of next month.
The publication reported that a number of printers and published spoke against the tariffs during the ITC’s meeting last week, calling them a threat to the nation’s press.
“Our trade remedy laws are meant to correct market interferences and disruptions, not to create them,” Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) said during the hearing.