Saturday, June 23, 2018

Newspapers cut back as newsprint tariffs bring double-digit increases in their second largest expense, printing

Rolls of newsprint at Paddock Publications in Schaumburg, Ill.
(Photo by David Kasnic for The Washington Post)
New tariffs on Canadian newsprint are shrinking newspapers, and could drive some small community papers out of business, reports Jackie Spinner of The Washington Post after a trip to Illinois, which probably has more newspapers than any other state, about 600.

"Nearly half the newspapers surveyed by the Illinois Press Association had reduced their page counts in early May because of the newsprint tariffs," Spinner reports. "If the tariffs become permanent, 40 percent of the respondents said they expected to reduce staff, and more than half would not fill open positions. Others planned to reduce publishing days or change the size of their format. Some said they would stop printing for civic and community groups, which they do free."

Another likely cut: fewer printed editions each week, as The Natchez Democrat in Mississippi just announced, dropping its "least profitable" days, Monday and Saturday.

The Commerce Department imposed tariffs of 6.5 percent and 22 percent in January and March, respectively. The International Trade Commission has scheduled a hearing on them July 17; if it rules against them, or Commerce demurs, they would expire.

The tariff squeeze has been especially bad for rural and other community papers, which have been the healthiest part of the newspaper industry partly because they still enjoy reasonably strong print circulation. Now, with a 30 percent increase in their second-large expense, more are looking to sell. “We’ve gotten more calls about little newspapers for sale this year than I can ever remember,” Scott Stone, chief executive of the Daily Herald Media Group in Northern Illinois, told Spinner.

Rick Campbell, a partner in C & R Media, which has five small papers in Southern Illinois, told Spinner, “I have major concerns for the whole industry, but especially small community papers in rural America, where papers have a very strong presence in people’s everyday lives.”

“I’m very rural,” he told Spinner. “I have four community papers under 2,000 circulation. When you talk about those small numbers, that’s significant. This increase in cost for me is actually hiring someone, another paid employee.”

Also in Southern Illinois, Jeff Egbert of the Pinckneyville Press and the DuQuoin Weekly "said a 30 percent increase in costs will make it difficult for his papers to do the kind of investigative reporting they are known for: exposing a police coverup involving the mayor’s son and uncovering a schools superintendent’s mishandling of surplus equipment that led to his resignation," Spinner reports.

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