Sometimes the wrong bogeyman gets blamed when things go awry, and that can cause unintended consequences that are much worse than the initial harm.
That’s the short version of what’s happening in the newspaper industry today, and readers of this newspaper and many other papers will be caught in the crossfire if the situation isn’t remedied soon.
The problem has to do with tariffs — not those the United States recently levied on steel and aluminum imports along with goods from China, although the same kind of cascading impact is feared there as well.
The tariff threatening to cost jobs and affect continued operations at newspapers across the country is a new duty the U.S. Department of Commerce has enacted on newsprint and other uncoated paper imported from Canada.
The duty can be as high as 32 percent of the price of the paper, raising costs of producing newspapers in this country by 20 to 30 percent.
Tariffs generally work to counteract unfair advantages that goods brought in from another country may have on American industries.
In this case, a single paper mill owned by a New York hedge fund and operating in the state of Washington sought the protection of the Commerce Department. As demand for its newsprint declined, the mill — North Pacific Paper Company — accused Canadian producers of undercutting its business by selling paper across the border at prices below a competitive rate. Thus, the new tariff.
In reality, demand for newsprint in North America has dropped by 75 percent since 2000, and it had little to do with cheaper paper from Canada. The reason the newsprint market fell is actually a consequence of changing technology and market forces that have moved newspaper advertising from print to digital, resulting in fewer print ads and less need for paper.
It is worth noting that other U.S. newsprint mills are not backing North Pacific, also known as NORPAC, in its bid for tariff protection.
However, plenty of U.S. employers including newspapers, book manufacturers and others in the printing industry are opposed, as is this newspaper and our parent company, GateHouse Media.
We are doing all we can to hold the line on rising costs so that we can continue to provide our readers — those with print subscriptions as well as those who read us online — with objective news reports along with sports and business coverage, informative features and credible opinion pages.
Asking our readers to pay significantly more is not a good solution to the havoc created by the newsprint tariff, nor is reducing content an option we want to face.
There is something we can — and do — ask of readers, however: Help us to encourage the International Trade Commission to reject the Canadian newsprint tariff as it studies the newly imposed import duty.
The ITC is a quasi-judicial federal agency with authority to stop the tariff. It recently issued notice that it has started its final review of the newsprint tariff, known as an anti-dumping and countervailing duty, with a hearing set for July 17.
Please ask Ohio Sens. Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman and your congressional representatives to take your concerns about the newsprint tariff to the ITC.
A free press isn’t free, but it shouldn’t be artificially expensive.