Monday, March 19, 2018

Community newspapers, fearing newsprint tariffs will put some of them out of business, seek help from Congress

Wisconsin newspaper representatives were among those from the community newspaper industry who met with lawmakers in Washington to discuss newsprint tariffs and other issues March 14-15. From left are U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and senior economic policy adviser Brian Conlan; Wisconsin Newspaper Association Executive Director Beth Bennett; Publisher Kris O'Leary of The Tribune-Phonograph in Abbotsford, and Laura Johnson. (Photo by WNA member Andrew Johnson)
Rural newspaper publishers from all over the country came to Washington last week to plead their case against new tariffs that will increase the cost of newsprint -- still a key cost for newspapers, which depend on print advertising even as they try to increase their digital revenue.

"My fear is for the community newspapers that don’t see this coming. This is a tidal wave that could wipe out a lot of community newspapers," Tony Smithson, vice president of printing for Bliss Communications in Janesville, Wis., told the publishers as they headed for Capitol Hill. As a publisher and printer in House Speaker Paul Ryan’s hometown, Smithson is a point man for the newsprint efforts of the National Newspaper Association, which organizes a lobbying blitz by community newspaper publishers every March.

This year's gathering began the day after the Department of Commerce announced preliminary "anti-dumping" duties as high as 22.16 percent on Canadian imports of untreated groundwood paper, such as newsprint. The new tariffs are in addition to a first round announced Jan. 9, ranging from 4.4 to 9.9 percent. “Newspapers could see an 8 to 10 percent increase in production costs in the short term,” Smithson told the publishers.

The tariffs were prompted by a petition from newsprint mill in Washington state, recently bought by a hedge fund. The International Trade Commission is expected to make a recommendation for final action by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in September. Newspapers can't offer testimony to the ITC, "but members of Congress can," said Tonda Rush, NNA's chief lobbyist. The News Media Alliance, comprising mainly daily newspapers, has created a lobbying coalition on the issue, but Rush said the case to Congress is “focused more on small papers because it’s hard to get sympathy for the larger ones.”

NNA is also seeking reform of the U.S. Postal Service. For a report on the issues from Al Cross of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, publisher of The Rural Blog, click here.

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