The newspaper industry faces a number of financial challenges, many of them direct effects of technological advances and shifts in local economies.
Lately, newspapers have faced an additional challenge, placed unnecessarily by the federal government.
Late last year, the Trump administration imposed tariffs on newsprint imported from Canada. This caused further increases in the price of the uncoated groundwood paper on which the Northwest Herald and other U.S. newspapers are printed.
On Wednesday, the International Trade Commission blocked those tariffs, which is a big victory for newspapers and the communities they serve.
Because newsprint is the second-largest expense for newspapers, the tariffs have had a negative short-term effect, with the potential to have disastrous long-term implications. Generally, newspapers have reduced page counts as a result, and have cut back on the number of reporters available to cover local news.
At some papers, that results in less coverage of city councils and school boards. At others, it means reduced political coverage, and fewer investigative reporting projects.
Communities rely on their local newspapers to keep residents informed – whether it be through their role as watchdog of local government or through simple tasks such as reporting on local festivals, dinners and other community gatherings. The more informed a community’s residents are, the more likely they are to participate in making their cities, counties and states better places to live.
That is why Wednesday’s decision should be celebrated. The ITC ruled that American producers weren’t harmed by the imports from Canadian paper mills. Canada produces the bulk of paper used by U.S. newspapers. One of the increasingly small number of American mills, the North Pacific Paper Company in Washington state, initially had petitioned the federal government for tariffs.
Duties still will be collected on imported Canadian paper until a final determination by the ITC is filed in September. Then, the Department of Commerce will order Customs to no longer collect tariff duties. Duties collected since the original ruling in January will be returned to the mills.
The tariffs issue isn’t closed. The Washington mill can appeal the commission’s ruling. But it is likely that this particular portion of ongoing trade battles is coming to an end.
This won’t mean newspapers suddenly will be financially able to send armies of reporters out to local government meetings and to courthouses, but it will at least ease the additional strain on budgets that the tariffs were causing.
Now, there are far greater strains from tariffs that must be addressed at the federal level, particularly the pinch U.S. farmers have felt from retaliatory tariffs on agriculture products.
Hopefully, the end result on those will be similar to the lower-profile newsprint tariffs, with cooler heads and reasonable decisions prevailing over political rhetoric.