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KATIE ZERR: Is endangering an industry worth playing a game?

Is the complaint of one paper company owned by a New York hedge fund worth communities losing their local newspapers?
That could happen if the unnecessary tariff on newsprint from Canada, the paper used to print this and other local newspapers in rural America, is allowed to stand. The possibility that many locally owned and operated newspapers in smaller communities across the country may have to shut down production is not just a scare tactic of the newspaper industry. Smaller companies are being hit the hardest by this tariff.
Local newspapers, including the one that you are reading now, are relied upon as the connection between community and local governments. Local newspapers provide credible information about what matters most to the residents of smaller communities, news about area residents, events, school sports, local businesses and important public notices have an impact on the area.
The tariffs are a response to a complaint to the U.S. Department of Commerce from a hedge fund-owned paper producer in Washington state using the argument that Canadian paper companies are taking advantage of government subsidies to sell their product at unfairly low prices.
This tariff may end up costing the newspaper industry thousands of jobs at a time when it is of vital importance for Americans to get the credible news and in depth reporting newspapers provide.
A spokesperson for the National Newspaper Association said it will cost as much as 40 percent more to produce the local news starting next month. For newspapers, this will result in fewer pages, higher subscription costs and less local content.
Lance St. John, the Bridge City Publishing print specialist, has been in the printing business for 35 years. He said he has never seen anything like this and it’s “scary.” In his opinion this will cause a ripple through the industry that is not going to get better.
Linda Meyer, manager of Bridge City Publishing and Missouri Dakota Publishing (Potter County News, West River Eagle) said one of the major issues is that this company will not be able to get the paper weight on which we print the newspapers of our area. Many of the area papers are printed at the Mobridge Tribune location. The paper that will be available for print will be thinner. This is a great concern to this company as color absorbs onto paper and when there isn’t much weight to that paper, the color will smear. Color is an oil-based ink and it takes longer to dry. Meyer said waiting for ink to dry would throw a wrench in production time and delay deliveries of the local news. This will also have an impact on other aspects of printing; the use of color in local papers and the quality of the product.
If the color becomes too difficult to print, cutbacks in use of color printing may have to be implemented.
The quality of print is directly related to the satisfaction of newspaper customers, from readers to advertisers. In any business, if the quality of the product goes down but the price goes up, it creates a formula that can lead to failure.
If this paper tariff costs this company and others across the country a rise in production cost of 40 percent a huge increase for smaller papers. Meyer said this is a grave concern for the owner/operators of smaller newspapers.
“We are a “news” paper and our editorial department works hard to bring you up-to-date on current events in our community. We are looking at other moves to save money because of the tariff including printing only one section (when possible) instead of two sections, to save on waste. Our readers and web print customers will need to bear with us through this transition. We will do our best to keep our web print customers informed on what is going on.”
The North Pacific Paper Company, the company that pushed the tariff, which employs about 300 people, is the only U.S. paper producer making the argument that Canadian paper companies are taking advantage of unfair trade practices with the U.S. Many others in the industry are of the mindset that this complaint is a selfish short-term ploy to line the pockets of its hedge fund owners.
So this tariff is harmful to the industry and is not protecting the U.S. as the North Pacific Paper Company claims. U.S. newspapers will have to cut staff and reduce publication days to afford higher prices of newsprint. This newspaper industry employs just more than 150,000 Americans. Many of these jobs are in jeopardy because of this tariff.
U.S. publishers say the Trump administration is using government power to benefit a single paper mill owner in Washington state. They say this administration is using the industry as a pawn to get back at Canada for low-priced Canadian timber imports and Canadian barriers to U.S. dairy farmers.
Is endangering an entire industry worth playing trade chess with one of our strongest allies?
It obviously is to this administration.
– Katie Zerr –