The U.S. government is slapping a tariff on Canadian newsprint that will hurt the American newspaper industry.

 

It’s a tariff that is opposed by the trade group for the American newsprint industry, the American Forest and Paper Association.

This curious situation stems from the owners of a single paper mill in Washington state.

They claim that the Canadian government is unfairly subsidizing the mills producing much of the newsprint used by U.S. newspapers.

So why would many American newsprint producers oppose this tariff? Because it will create a ripple effect of negative impacts on the newspaper industry.

National Newspaper Association President Susan Rowell, publisher of The Lancaster (S.C.) News, said in a statement that “forcing us through protectionist trade practices to buy less paper would lead to small newspapers and a less informed community. In the end, the U.S. newsprint producers would be harmed. We would be harmed. Jobs would be lost. NNA is urging the Commerce Department to recognize the economic realities we all face.”

The tariff announced this week, though not final, will begin to be collected at the Canadian border, reported the Commerce Department. It will range from 4.42 percent to 9.93 percent.

Because newsprint, along with salaries, represents a large expense for newspapers, this is a serious issue.

“It’s a very difficult situation for us,” said Mark Nusbaum, president of The Florida Times-Union, which was recently purchased by GateHouse Media, owner and operator of 130 dailies across the United States.

“As everyone knows, revenues have been very challenging for us in the news media industry for at least a decade — particularly advertising revenues associated with our print products — as major/national retailers continue to struggle in the face of on-line purchasing trends,” Nusbaum said.

“This additional cost resulting from these tariffs will be significant and, yes, they will directly impact us locally here in Jacksonville just like any other local newspaper in America.

“Put very simply, it makes it that much harder to have the resources needed to invest in quality local news coverage on a regular, daily basis — which we believe is healthy if not essential for our local communities, now and in the future, to thrive.”

The request for the tariff originated with North Pacific Paper Company, which is owned by a hedge fund, One Rock Capital Partners.

The News Media Alliance sent a letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross — signed by more than 1,100 U.S. newspapers — opposing the tariff for the “very severe” impact it would have on the industry.

Readership for newspapers continues to grow online, but print revenues remain a significant challenge.

Newspapers with a national base like The New York Times and Washington Post have been transitioning from print to digital, in recent years. City and regional papers like the Times-Union have been doing the same. Print, however, remains central to these operations.

But while the changes are underway, unnecessary increases in costs hurt an industry that is needed by the people to learn about their democratic republic.

Without professional journalists, the public must rely on a rumor mill that is turbocharged online.

A final decision on the tariffs is scheduled about May 22.

The Commerce Department would be wise to follow this ethical dictum:

Make a decision that will help the greatest number of people and businesses.

Listen to the newspaper industry.

Listen to the producers of U.S. newsprint.

Kill this bad tariff.