Newsprint tar­iffs crush­ing lo­cal news

The Mercury (Pottstown, PA) - - FRONT PAGE -

An­other blow to the in­dus­try: Tar­iffs on Cana­dian pa­per pose an ex­is­ten­tial threat to com­mu­nity news­pa­pers.

Tar­iffs on Cana­dian pa­per pose an ex­is­ten­tial threat to com­mu­nity news­pa­pers.

And of course this wor­ries those of us who are em­ployed by news­pa­pers. But it also should worry you.

With­out lo­cal news­pa­pers, elected of­fi­cials would be free to spend your tax money be­hind closed doors, use their po­si­tions for self-en­rich­ment and run roughshod over your in­ter­ests and those of your fel­low cit­i­zens with­out worry of ex­po­sure.

The voice of cit­i­zens is am­pli­fied by lo­cal news­pa­pers; your con­cerns are our con­cerns. We’re not be­ing lofty when we say we are se­ri­ous about our Fourth Es­tate role as watch­dogs.

Whether the is­sue is a school board’s machi­na­tions in the dark, or a state law­maker’s al­leged his­tory of sex­ual ha­rass­ment and as­sault, news­pa­per jour­nal­ists are com­mit­ted to bring­ing to light the ac­tions of those charged with do­ing the pub­lic’s busi­ness.

Lo­cal news­pa­pers tell the sto­ries, too, that knit a com­mu­nity to­gether — sto­ries of the ob­sta­cles peo­ple are fac­ing, the joys they are cel­e­brat­ing.

They tell sto­ries about hu­man con­nec­tion, about the chal­lenges and tri­umphs of in­di­vid­u­als, schools, busi­nesses, or­ga­ni­za­tions.

They cover lo­cal sports, the lo­cal arts scene, the lo­cal econ­omy, lo­cal in­dus­try. The na­tional news­pa­per you read on your smart­phone won’t de­liver any of that cov­er­age.

News­pa­pers have made crit­i­cal changes in an ef­fort to re­main a part of the lives of the com­mu­ni­ties they serve for a long time. But these tar­iffs have the po­ten­tial to be crush­ing.

As the San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle’s ed­i­to­rial page ed­i­tor, John Diaz, wrote in May, “Newsprint is the sec­ond-largest ex­pense for Amer­i­can news­pa­pers, sur­passed only by pay­roll. The price jumps have been im­me­di­ate and se­vere — as has the loss of jobs. The Tampa Bay Times of St. Peters­burg (Florida) an­nounced (in April) that it would be lay­ing off about 50 work­ers as a direct re­sult of a $3.4 mil­lion an­nual in­crease in newsprint costs.”

That news­pa­per’s CEO, Paul Tash, warned read­ers in a let­ter: “Make no mis­take: These tar­iffs will cause lay­offs across Amer­i­can news­pa­pers.”

NORPAC has about 300 em­ploy­ees. These tar­iffs put at risk an es­ti­mated 600,000 other Amer­i­can jobs in news­pa­per and book pub­lish­ing and com­mer­cial print­ing.

So we laud Repub­li­can U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey for co-spon­sor­ing leg­is­la­tion aimed at sus­pend­ing these po­ten­tially dev­as­tat­ing tar­iffs.

A news re­lease on Toomey’s web­site ex­plains: “The bi­par­ti­san Pro­tect­ing Ra­tio­nal In­cen­tives in Newsprint Trade Act of 2018 (PRINT Act) calls on the U.S. Depart­ment of Com­merce to sus­pend the col­lec­tion of du­ties and to con­duct a study into the eco­nomic health of the U.S. news­pa­per and pub­lish­ing in­dus­tries.

Fol­low­ing the com­ple­tion of this study, the pres­i­dent would be re­quired to re­view the study and cer­tify that such a tax on im­ported UGW pa­per is in the best in­ter­est of the coun­try.”

Sixteen other sen­a­tors — Demo­cratic, Repub­li­can and in­de­pen­dent — have joined Toomey as co-spon­sors of the PRINT Act; Repub­li­can Sen. Su­san Collins of Maine is the bill’s prime spon­sor.

We urge Demo­cratic Sen. Bob Casey to join the ef­fort. And we hope to see Con­gress­man Lloyd Smucker push sim­i­lar leg­is­la­tion in the U.S. House.

As Mark Cohen, pres­i­dent of the Penn­syl­va­nia News­Me­dia As­so­ci­a­tion, wrote in an oped pub­lished in LNP on April 6, the United States “does not pro­duce enough newsprint for the U.S. mar­ket to sur­vive.”

Af­ford­able Cana­dian pa­per has been the most vi­able op­tion to keep “printed news alive and flour­ish­ing,” he noted.

These tar­iffs may prove to be not just a game-changer but a game-en­der.

And they won’t just hurt news­pa­pers, caus­ing some of them to print on fewer days or to make their pub­li­ca­tions com­pletely dig­i­tal. They are likely to af­fect the prices of books and mag­a­zines, and put still more pub­lish­ers out of busi­ness. For what rea­son?

So that one pa­per com­pany, and its pri­vate eq­uity firm own­ers, might profit.

“Were it left to me to de­cide if we should have a gov­ern­ment with­out news­pa­pers, or news­pa­pers with­out a gov­ern­ment, I should not hes­i­tate a mo­ment to pre­fer the lat­ter,” Thomas Jef­fer­son fa­mously wrote.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion now ap­pears to be OK with the prospect of putting some news­pa­pers out of busi­ness. We should won­der why.

And for the sake of the longterm health of our com­mu­ni­ties, we shouldn’t al­low it.

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