Tariffs on newsprint continue to threaten local, national news publications
“Every time a newspaper dies, even a bad one, the country moves a little closer to authoritarianism…” – Richard Kluger
By Joe Bachman
Editor, Stevens Point City Times, Portage County Gazette — Multi Media Channel publications
Since 2004, approximately 700+ newspapers across the country have ceased to exist. Since 2016, the industry has seen an overall decrease of 10 percent. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of reporters, editors, or photographers in the industry has dropped from 71,640 in 2004 to 39,210 in 2017 — a 45 percent decrease. Wages in that time period have shrunk by approximately $15,000 on average.
This is capped with shrinking publications, staffing cuts, and a statistical drop in civic engagement across the country. While this has been ongoing for over a decade, the recent hike in newsprint tariffs threaten to put the final nail in the coffin for many publications, not just across the country, but throughout local newspapers in Wisconsin.
With state-based companies like Harley-Davidson gaining national attention for moving some factory operations overseas due to tariffs on steel, and part of the state dairy industry feeling the heat with similar tariffs, newsprint is under the same fire due to recent trade wars and tariff hikes.
With over a dozen paper mills across the United States closing its doors in the past decade, Canadian newsprint is in high demand for local and national newspapers. According to a report by the U.S. Newspaper Association, if Canadian production of newsprint ceased, local and national mills would not be able to keep with with the current supply the newspaper industry demands.
Simply put, the increased production expenses due to a 20-30 percent increase in tariffs over this year threatens all local news as we know it.
While according to Pew Research, in 2017 only 18 percent of readers got their news from paper publications, compared to 43 percent and 50 percent for online and television sources, respectively, it still leaves a harrowing circumstance in our current industry — not everyone gets their news online, and nearly 600,000 jobs across the country are at stake with the potential demise of newspapers.
However, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel.
Six months after the Trump administration raised tariffs on Canadian newsprint, the PRINT Act, (Protecting Rational Incentives in Newsprint Trade Act) was introduced to congress by Maine senators Susan Collins and Angus King. This bill would suspend the tariffs on a temporary basis in order to conduct a study of the news industry by the U.S. Department of Commerce.
“The U.S. printing and publishing industry is facing an unprecedented threat from crippling new import tariffs imposed on Canadian uncoated groundwood paper – better known as ‘newsprint’ – which is used by newspapers, book publishers, and commercial printers,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine). “As a Senator representing one of our nation’s leading papermaking states, I have consistently fought for actions to ensure a level playing field for the domestic papermaking industry. In this case, however, one domestic mill owned by a venture capital firm appears to be taking advantage of trade remedies to add to its own bottom line, putting thousands of American jobs at risk. I encourage my colleagues to support this bipartisan bill to fully evaluate the economic impact of these tariffs before they harm our local newspapers and printing industries.”
This bi-partisan bill currently has 26 sponsors from across the country, however, none yet from Wisconsin. You can help change that.
Speak to your local representative, both local and state, to ask them to support this bill in an attempt to stop the bleeding of the newspaper industry due to these tariffs. You’ll have the backing of nearly all of the U.S. paper industry, as well as the American Forest and Paper Association.
If you enjoy and value local news, put a call out to local legislators to take action in Washington. This includes Sen. Tammy Baldwin, Sen. Ron Johnson, Sen. Ron Kind, and here at home, Rep. Katrina Shankland, and Sen. Patrick Testin.
Your voice matters, and without a medium such as local news, your voice becomes quieter, and quieter.