To protect the interests of just one manufacturer, the Trump administration this month imposed a hefty tariff on Canadian paper imported by newspapers, putting thousands of media jobs at risk and threatening the ability of the press to hold government accountable.
America’s newspapers already face significant financial challenges as readers switch to digital media. In the last 10 years, print subscriptions are down more than 30 percent and advertising revenues are down about half. For while millions of readers visit our websites every week — sunsentinel.com attracted 9 million page views last week — online advertising and digital subscriptions are far less lucrative.
So the imposition of these tariffs, which range up to 32 percent, is rocking the foundation of the free press.
"Most newspapers will not be able to absorb these increased costs and will be forced to reduce page counts, reduce days of distribution, and/or move more information to digital platforms,” says David Chavern, president of News Media Alliance, the trade association for about 2,000 newspapers in the United States and Canada.
“Some small-market or rural newspapers, with slim margins, will close.”
More than 1,100 newspapers signed a December letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, urging him to deny a paper mill’s petition for tariffs because of the “very severe” impact they would have on business.
A bipartisan group in Congress did the same. “The irony is that this trade dispute — brought by only one company with 400 employees — could accelerate the decline for an entire industry and may put small-market newspapers out of business,” said the letter by Reps. Chuck Fleishmann, R-Tenn., and Jamie Raskin, D-Md.
But the Commerce Department ignored the casualty forecast and threw in with President Trump, who says “trade wars are good and easy to win.”
If this trade war stands, newspapers will surely have to raise subscription prices — a real punch in the gut to price-sensitive readers who rely on the paper for their news. Hardly a day goes by when we don’t hear from an older reader who wants to submit a letter to the editor, but can’t use a computer or afford internet access.
Newspapers will have to cut expenses, too, and that means jobs. After newsprint, payroll is our second largest expense. And layoffs not only affect valued employees and their families, they stress our ability to watchdog government, report on business, cover high school sports and help you discover today’s best deal, the best local restaurants and fun things to do with the kids.
These tariffs came about because the hedge-fund owners of a Washington state paper mill, called North Pacific Paper Company, complained to the Commerce Department about lost business. It said Canada was shoring up its paper mills and letting them “dump” their products in the U.S. at below-market rates.
The leading American producer of newsprint takes a different view on what’s happened to business. “We recognize that market erosion, not unfair trade, has caused more than a 75 percent decline in North American newsprint consumption since the year 2000,” Seth Kursman, of Resolute Forest Products, said in a statement.
Regardless, a government that calls itself fiscally conservative has no business picking winners and losers in the marketplace, let alone protecting a single company at the expense of an entire industry.
We urge Congress to get involved.
We’re told Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell won’t schedule any votes to reverse the president’s new tariffs, including those on steel and aluminum. On the House side, we hear tariffs are the purview of the president and little can be done.
But Congress could convene hearings to explore how a single company was able to sway our nation’s policy over the opposition of its industry.
If you agree, we encourage you to contact Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio. Reach out to Reps. Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Frederica Wilson, too. Their contact info is listed below.
Tell them these tariffs are putting 175,000 newspaper jobs at risk. Tell them you believe newspapers are essential to our democracy. Tell them to get creative and do something.
Sen. Bill Nelson, 716 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510; 202-224-5274; Tweet him at @SenBillNelson
Sen. Marco Rubio, 284 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510; 202-224-3041; Tweet him at @marcorubio
21st Congressional District: Lois Frankel, 1037 Longworth House Office Building Washington, D.C. 20515; 202-225-9890; Tweet her @RepLoisFrankel
22nd Congressional District: Ted Deutch, 2447 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20515; 202-225-3001; Tweet him @RepTedDeutch
23rd Congressional District: Debbie Wasserman Schultz, 1114 Longworth House Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20515; 202-225-7931; Tweet her @RepDWSTweets
24th Congressional District: Frederica Wilson, 2445 Rayburn House Office Building. Washington, D.C. 20515; 202-225-4506; Tweet her @RepWilson