Another Threat To Free Press

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The trade war with Canada over steel, aluminum and milk understandably grabs the headlines. But flying under the radar is the battle over Canadian newsprint, a skirmish that’s hurting businesses and costing jobs.

In January, the U.S. Commerce Department, responding to a complaint from a New York private equity firm that bought a Washington state mill, imposed a 6.2 percent tariff on imports of Canadian newsprint, then added another 22 percent in March. And U.S. newspapers, to put it mildly, are suffering mightily. ...

The tariff already has prompted layoffs — newsprint is typically a newspaper’s biggest operating cost behind labor — and caused some newspapers to reduce their number of pages.

Thousands of U.S. newspaper jobs are hanging in the balance.

The Washington state paper mill employs fewer than 300 people. Like some other recent tariffs, the cure is worse than the disease.

Never mind that most U.S. mills quit producing newsprint more than a decade ago as demand fell and traditional newspaper subscribers migrated increasingly to digital news. Or that Canada produces about 60 percent of all newsprint. ...

“For an industry already severely challenged, this is very painful, unfair and totally unnecessary,” Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News publisher Terrance C.Z. Egger said in a story in his newspapers, adding that the tariff was estimated to increase his operating costs by $2 million annually.

About 50 newspaper executives will make their case to lawmakers who are set to testify before the trade commission on July 17. After that, the Commerce Department would make a decision to keep the tariff or lift it.

A decision is expected by late summer, but relief can’t come soon enough. ... In April, the Tampa Bay Times, Florida’s largest newspaper and winner of 12 Pulitzer Prizes, laid off about 50 employees, citing increased newsprint costs.

Meanwhile, Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pennsylvania, has asked Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to use his authority to suspend the tariff, a power the president also holds. Separately, the House and Senate are considering bills that would roll back the import duty pending a study of its economic effects.

Newspapers still depend on revenue from their print editions, and the tariff is making the industry’s already difficult transition to digital even harder. We need our newspapers and our newspaper jobs more than we need U.S.-produced newsprint.

Our democracy also needs an informed public, a service that newspapers provide to their communities with more depth than other media. ...

The newsprint tariff isn’t the only problem newspapers are facing, but it is one the administration can and should address quickly. Lift the tariff on Canadian newsprint.

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