Community newspapers fear newsprint tariffs will put some of them out of business

WASHINGTON—Rural newspaper publishers from all over the country came to Washington in March to plead their case against new tariffs that will increase the cost of newsprint—still a key cost for newspapers, which depend on print advertising even as they try to increase their digital revenue.

By Al Cross
Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues

“My fear is for the community newspapers that don’t see this coming. This is a tidal wave that could wipe out a lot of community newspapers,” Tony Smithson, vice president of printing for Bliss Communications in Janesville, WI, told the publishers as they headed for Capitol Hill. As a publisher and printer in House Speaker Paul Ryan’s hometown, Smithson is a point man for the newsprint efforts of the National Newspaper Association, which organizes a lobbying blitz by community newspaper publishers every March. (See his take on how to deal with a limited newsprint supply on Page 6 of this issue.)
This year’s gathering began the day after the Department of Commerce announced preliminary “anti-dumping” duties as high as 22.16 percent on Canadian imports of untreated groundwood paper, such as newsprint. The new tariffs are in addition to a first round announced Jan. 9, ranging from 4.4 percent to 9.9 percent. “Newspapers could see an 8 percent to 10 percent increase in production costs in the short term,” Smithson told the publishers.
The tariffs were prompted by a petition from a newsprint mill in Washington state, recently bought by a hedge fund. The International Trade Commission is expected to make a recommendation for final action by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in September. Newspapers can’t offer testimony to the ITC, “but members of Congress can,” said Tonda Rush, NNA’s director of public policy. The News Media Alliance, comprising mainly daily newspapers, has created a lobbying coalition on the issue, but Rush said the case to Congress is “focused more on small papers because it’s hard to get sympathy for the larger ones.”
NNA is also seeking reform of the U.S. Postal Service.