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Pennsylvania

Tariffs on Canadian newsprint taking toll on American newspapers

| Thursday, March 29, 2018, 12:24 a.m.
A press operator checks the newspaper as it rolls off the press at the Daily News in McKeesport in this Dec. 17, 2015 file photo.
Tribune-Review
A press operator checks the newspaper as it rolls off the press at the Daily News in McKeesport in this Dec. 17, 2015 file photo.

While the steel and aluminum industries applaud President Trump's use of tariffs to help competition in world markets, there's at least one industry fearing the leveling of tariffs in their markets.

The American newspaper industry, faced with skyrocketing newsprint costs, feels the additional expenses brought on by tariffs could break many small hometown papers.

At odds are newspaper publishers and newsprint manufacturers.

Newsprint is the paper predominantly used in newspaper publishing.

Last year, North Pacific Paper Co., based in Longview, Wash., petitioned the Department of Commerce for anti­dumping and countervailing duties on newsprint from Canada. North Pacific claims subsidies from the Canadian government provide an unfair advantage. The industry in the United States wants “a level playing field,” CEO Craig Amber said.

Newsprint price hikes of at least 25 percent — or about $216 per metric ton — have occurred since the beginning of the year because of industry increases and tariffs, said Jennifer Bertetto, president and CEO of Trib Total Media LLC.

Bertetto said word came last week of further newsprint price increases for April and May. “There appears to be no end in sight,” she said.

Publishers already struggling with advertising and circulation declines say they're feeling pressure to raise prices, cut pages, reduce publication days or staff.

As other publishers have done, Bertetto said Trib Total Media is considering — but trying to avoid — a single-copy price increase for its weekday and Sunday papers.

Paul Boyle, senior vice president of the News Media Alliance, an Arlington, Va.-based trade group, said anticipation of the tariffs, combined with tighter supplies of newsprint, is fueling price increases.

“What we are seeing are price increases passed on of up to 30 percent,” he said. He noted that some small daily papers in the south have cut publication days from seven to three over the past month.

More than 10 American newsprint mills have closed since 2012, slashing production capacity by almost 70 percent, according to North Pacific Paper Co.

However, the News Media Alliance contends that falling demand, not unfair trade practices, resulted in mill closings or conversions to make other paper products.

Demand for newsprint had dropped 75 percent since 2000 in North America, as papers downsized print editions, switched to digital delivery only or closed, according to the News Media Alliance.

More than 600,000 people work in publishing and printing nationwide. Canadian newsprint typically is purchased in the Northeast and Midwest, where no U.S. mills operated, the News Media Alliance said.

In the newspaper industry, salaries and benefits typically account for the No. 1 cost followed by newsprint.

Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association President Mark Cohen called the tariffs “an economic war on our industry that should never happen.”

Publishers and printers, including many small businesses in local communities, “strongly object to unnecessary newsprint tariffs that will hurt, not help, the U.S. newsprint industry,” Cohen added.

Kim Leonard is a Tribune-Review assistant news editor. She can be reached at 724-226- 4674 or kleonard@tribweb.com.

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