Trump Tariffs Threaten Free Press

By Maggie Weaver

In the Fall of 2016, the Pittsburgh edition of the Tribune-Review changed into an all-digital media source.  

The Tribune-Review, now The TribLive, was one of the first Pittsburgh daily papers to make the switch. This eliminated about 20% of the company’s employees, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

With the recent tariffs placed on imported Canadian groundwood, cuts, layoffs and drastic switches in printed media may impact local newspapers.  On June 27th, the Post-Gazette itself announced it will only publish print editions five days a week.  The paper has not yet said what two days will feature only digital editions.

In January, a 6.2% tariff was placed on Canadian groundwood; it was raised 22% by March. For the Post-Gazette, this tariff translates to an added $1 million in expenses for Block Communications, the paper’s publishing company.  Larger newspapers are predicted to suffer an increase of about $3 million, according to Global News, a Canadian-based media source.

The Lehigh Valley Live, a Pennsylvania-local media source reports, “Newsprint is the second largest cost for newspapers, after salaries and benefits. Most newspapers in the northeast U.S. rely on Canadian product because the remaining mills in the U.S. — there are only five left — are located in the Southeast and Northwest.”

North Pacific Paper Company (NORPAC), a hedge-fund owned paper supplier, is the lobbying force behind the tariffs. NORPAC claims that, “government subsidies give Canadian producers an unfair price advantage over domestic mills,” as reported by the Post-Gazette.

But NORPAC’s argument is faulty.

According to Global News, if every paper mill in the U.S. operated at full capacity, the industry could support only 60% of U.S. newsprint.

The Washington-based company blames Canadian-imported groundwood for the decline of papermill success, but they ignore the general reduction of print use.

According to the Post-Gazette, demand for newsprint has dropped 75% since 2000. Since 2007, Pennsylvania has lost 8 daily papers and over 50 non-dailies.

NORPAC is not supported by other paper mills– no other U.S. paper mills have followed NORPAC’s lead. The tariffs are not even supported by the paper industry’s large trade organization, The American Forest and Paper Association, according to Lehigh Valley Live.

NORPAC also claims that Canadian groundwood threatens domestic jobs, advocating for the tariffs to protect the company’s 300 employees.

According to the Lehigh Valley Live, U.S. newspapers employ over 150,000 citizens. Enforcing the groundwood tariffs can cause publishers to reduce page count, publication days or to entirely cut print editions. The resulting job loss would be disastrous.

The loss of newsprint is not being taken lightly.

A bill has been introduced to the Senate, supported by 17 Senators, including Pat Toomey, R-PA. The legislation, titled 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,” highlights Toomey’s website.

“American companies must be allowed to adequately and fairly source materials, especially when those items are not produced domestically,” said Toomey. “The newspaper and publishing industries are facing unprecedented challenges and the tax on UGW paper could spell the end of numerous publishers across Pennsylvania.”

The media community has not left their fate up to the federal government.

An organization, Stop Tariffs on Printers & Publishers (STOPP), has been formed to oppose the tariffs. They identify themselves as, “printers, publishers, paper suppliers and distributors that represent mostly small businesses in local communities that employ more than 600,000 workers in the United States.”

STOPP is taking initiatives to make more voices heard. The website, www.stopnewsprinttariffs.org , offers opportunities to contact congress members and sign their petition.

“In most small towns, the printed newspaper or small commercial printers that fulfill direct mail campaigns are the mediums for small businesses to reach their customers, particularly in areas where digital advertising is limited given absence of broadband,” writes STOPP.

“If newspapers and printers were forced to close, advertisers would lose an important outlet for promoting goods and services. Furthermore, in these small towns, citizens will lose an important source of news and information, including information from their representatives in our nation’s capital.”

Pittsburgh’s local papers are already suffering from increased tariffs. The Pittsburgh Catholic newspaper, a non-daily that has not raised subscription rates in 16 years, is considering a price hike, according to the Post-Gazette. “Recent federal government tariffs slapped on Canadian newsprint have pushed production costs so high that Carmella Weismantle, the paper’s operations manager, said there may be no choice but to ask advertisers — and perhaps the parishes that subscribe — to pay more,” reports the Post-Gazette.

NORPAC, a solitary petitioner, has the potential to alter the future of newsprint.

For now, the tariffs are temporary. On July 17, the International Trade Commission has a scheduled hearing, where publishers can argue against the tariff. A final decision will be made in August or September, according to Global News.

Maggie Weaver is a member of the Editorial Collective. 

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