Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Trade commission completely reverses newsprint tariffs, called 'the greatest existential threat to newspapers, ever'

The International Trade Commission voted unanimously today to nullify the tariffs on Canadian newsprint, after finding that American newsprint producers were not harmed by such imports.

"The ruling is a victory for the U.S. newspaper industry, which complained that the rising cost of newsprint made it harder to operate and required them to trim the size of papers or lay off employees," Kevin Freking reports for The Associated Press.

The tariffs were unpopular with lawmakers from both parties as well as newspapers that were forced to reduce production or lay off staff to cope with the increased costs. The tariffs were announced Jan. 8 in response to a complaint from a paper mill in Washington state that had recently been purchased by New York City hedge fund. 

The Commerce Department gave papers some breathing room earlier this month, ruling that it would proceed with the tariffs at lower rates (for most mills; some got an increase) and on a smaller scale than initially announced. The ITC's reason for completely reversing the tariffs will likely be made clearer when the commission issues a final report on Sept. 17, according to Paul Boyle, senior vice president of the News Media Alliance, large newspapers' main lobbying group.

NMA President David Chavern said, “Today is a great day for American journalism. The I.T.C.’s decision will help to preserve the vitality of local newspapers and prevent additional job losses in the printing and publishing sectors. The end of these unwarranted tariffs means local newspapers can focus once again on playing a vital role in our democracy by keeping citizens informed and connected to the daily life of their communities.”

Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, publisher of The Rural Blog, hailed the move, saying "These tariffs had proven to be the greatest existential threat to newspapers, ever."

UPDATE: Newspaper consultant Kevin Slimp writes on his State of Newspapers site, "After an appropriate period of celebration, let me suggest that we step back and take a look at what we’ve learned through this experience. What did we learn about the influence we have as community newspapers. Don’t kid yourself. It wasn’t the editorials in the big dailies that got the attention of decision makers. . . . My question is, 'Now that we realize we still have significant influence, how are we going to use this knowledge?' . . .

"I’m hoping I hear from fewer newspaper owners who feel like they 'have to' sell their newspapers right away. The number one reason I’ve heard from these owners is 'the increased cost of newsprint.' Maybe newspapers run by venture capitalist firms will pull back from the idea of 'pursuing efficiencies' (code words for reducing staff and cutting pages)."

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