The printed word — like the thousands that appear in each edition of daily and weekly newspapers across Missouri — is at risk in an environment where government turns a blind eye to the devastating impact of newsprint tariffs.
More than an opinion, this is a reality in the wake of January’s announcement from the U.S. Department of Commerce that it would begin imposing stiff tariffs on Canadian newsprint. Across the country, newspapers of every size are being forced to cut costs to survive price hikes of up to 32 percent.
The Courier-Tribune is no different, and we’ve already implemented cost-cutting measures to offset the rising cost of printing.
Newsprint for decades has been among the biggest expenses for newspapers — usually second only to payroll. And Canadian newsprint throughout that period has been the leading source of paper to U.S. publishers.
Profit margins in both the paper milling and publishing businesses have been under stress since the recession and the rise of the digital revolution. No one was looking to add to that stress — except for a single opportunistic U.S. newsprint supplier in Washington state.
North Pacific Paper Co., or NORPAC, petitioned Commerce last August requesting it impose tariffs on Canadian suppliers. NORPAC contended paper mills across the border were receiving unfair advantages from their government and dumping cheap paper on the U.S. market.
These arguments, however, run counter to the interests of U.S. consumers and the rest of the U.S. newsprint industry, which has not sided with NORPAC. The truth is pricing of newsprint has much more to do with consumer demand, industry capacity and market logistics particular to paper.
U.S. demand for newsprint has fallen by 75 percent since the 1990s. Mills in both countries have closed and no one is looking to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in building a new mill. Plus, Canadian mills have natural advantages over U.S. suppliers due to access to hydroelectric power and closer proximity to many U.S. cities.
The result is the U.S. newspaper industry has two sources for newsprint, but the U.S. mills are in no position to step up and serve America’s newspapers if Canadian newsprint is artificially priced out of the market.
One other important consideration: Even as local newspapers transform to serve readers and advertisers across a variety of digital platforms — many are showing strong results for their efforts — this is a work in progress. Newspapers still get the majority of their revenues from ink-on-paper products.
Tariffs in this instance do not create or protect U.S. jobs. Rather, if they are allowed to stand following later reviews this summer, they put new pressures on newspapers and imperil services to local readers and advertisers.