In recent weeks, tariffs on imported aluminum and steel, and on products from China have made headlines. The difficulties brought upon newspaper printers and publishers resulting from a trade war over the paper those headlines are printed on have not been as highly publicized.
This month, the U.S. government imposed significant tariffs onto the imports of newsprint from Canada, including those from the industry’s largest suppliers.
As a result, the supply chain has been shocked. Many larger operations stockpiled the inventories of industry suppliers, leaving smaller community publishers to compete for a dwindled supply.
Additionally, the cost of newsprint to publishers in the United States is expected to climb by more than 30 percent according to industry experts and market economists. Newsprint, sold in increments of tons, will see costs rise from $600 per ton to nearly $800 per ton.
Last year, the Sentinel required approximately 450 tons of newsprint to produce Jackson County’s newspaper and the eight other community newspapers that print in Scottsboro. The effects of these tariffs represent a nearly $100,000 increase to material expenses for our operation that employs 30 people in Jackson County.
The issue is not unique to just us. It’s widespread across the entire industry, which affects every community newspapers’ ability to compete in an economic climate that is already very difficult.
In this country, newspapers have a long and important legacy of holding the powerful accountable, defending the First Amendment and advocating for government transparency.
Newspapers like yours are committed to the neighborhoods, cities, counties, states and coverage areas we serve. Straightforward news reporting without fear or favor and thought-provoking commentary give a voice to the voiceless and empower the powerless.
No other outlet will report on a local community with such ambition and vigor.
These tariffs hurt readers the most. They force publishers to make decisions that weigh expenses against the best interests of those we serve.
Where compensation must be made in an effort to continue operating and to maintain staffing levels, cuts could include your favorite comics, featured columnists, coverage efforts and distribution. These tariffs could force us to consider raising advertising and subscription rates.
At many newspapers across the country, large and small, jobs will be lost as a result of this move designed to serve a special interest.
Immediate steps we’re taking at the Sentinel include:
- Adjusting page counts and section sizes where possible
- Decreasing the type size of our stories by one point to fit the same amount of content on less pages
- Printing smaller photos, and using the space gained for stories
- Consolidating color advertising/photo placements
- Making press adjustments to reduce material waste
These moves are being made in an effort to continue providing our readers with the best coverage of the local community that we can despite these unwarranted headwinds, with minimal impact to our readers who depend on us. We hope these are but temporary stopgaps, in place until government officials correct this issue.
The tariffs are the result of a sole petitioner to the U.S. Department of Commerce and the International Trade Commission. North Pacific Paper Company (NORPAC), which operates a single mill in Longview, WA, asked for steep import duties in excess of 50 percent so that it can try to raise its own prices, and increase the short-term value of this one mill.
NORPAC was recently acquired by One Rock Capital Partners, a New York-based hedge fund.
The petition is opposed by a coalition of U.S. newsprint producers, as well as the domestic publishing industry represented by the American Forest and Paper Association.
The tariffs disproportionally reward NORPAC, while disrupting the supply of newsprint available in the United States.
Even if all imported Canadian paper products were to disappear from the market due to these tariffs, there are not enough domestic paper mills to supply American newspapers with the paper they need to publish. Many U.S. mills have shuttered in recent years due to lowered demand as metro newspapers transition to digital, and others like the one here in Jackson County have converted to make cardboard boxes and packing material for retail giants such as Amazon.
The International Trade Commission (ITC) can right this wrong, but it will take the help of readers like you. Contact your U.S. senators and representative and ask them to submit written comments to the ITC opposing this overly narrow and dangerous action. Request that they let the ITC know that this newsprint trade case has and will continue to cause unintended consequences to your local community, and should be rejected.
Thank you for your support of community journalism.
Brandon Cox is the editor and publisher of the Sentinel. He can be reached by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonJCox.