Guest Columnist

Tariffs that threaten journalism

Newspapers enter the folder after being printed at the Colorweb press in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Liz Martin/The Gazette Archives)
Newspapers enter the folder after being printed at the Colorweb press in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Liz Martin/The Gazette Archives)

Tariffs have been at the top of the news cycle lately, and now one has landed on our very own doorstep here at The Gazette. While Trump-fueled trade policies have created the big headlines, there is a story flying under the radar that could have significant consequences as it relates to print journalism.

Last year, a New York hedge fund called One Rock Partners purchased North Pacific Paper Company (NORPAC) in Washington. The fund then asked the Department of Commerce to impose a duty on imports of Canadian paper, used primarily in the newspaper and publishing industries. Its thinly veiled attempt to manipulate U.S. trade policy actually was given the green light. The first of two tariffs went into effect in January, with a second starting in March.

The combined effect of these tariffs has driven up the price of newsprint between 15 and 25 percent, with the possibility prices could continue to rise.

The reality is, for all the discussion of print being “dead” in the age of the internet, demand for paper is already ahead of supply. Mills in the U.S. cannot deliver enough paper to serve our industry, let alone those of books and other periodicals.

NORPAC alleges the Canadian government is unfairly subsidizing Canadian mills and putting mills in the United States at a competitive disadvantage. What is interesting is no other U.S. mill supported this measure.

In fact, not only have newspapers and publishers formed a coalition to oppose these measures, but the American Forest and Paper Association, which represents industry interests in this country, opposes the tariffs. At first glance, that seems strange. But not when you think about broader impacts.

The reality is, for all the discussion of print being “dead” in the age of the internet, demand for paper is already ahead of supply. Mills in the U.S. cannot deliver enough paper to serve our industry, let alone those of books and other periodicals.

Combine that with the financial challenge the print media industry currently faces and you have a brewing storm that not only threatens tens of thousands of jobs, but also significantly weakens the greatest defender of democracy we have: Journalism.

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It is true the media industry has been slow to adapt to change during the past 20 years. This is not the column to rehash all of that. We now certainly understand what we are up against, and are working diligently to improve our products and business models in order to continue to serve our communities and country. Our challenges are many and we will get those figured out. But this particular one in the form of a tariff is dangerous.

One hedge fund has chosen to put the bottom line of one of their holdings ahead of thousands of jobs, and perhaps an entire industry. For all the recent rhetoric on corporate greed, I believe we have found the face for that poster in One Rock Partners.

Our facility in Cedar Rapids, ColorWeb Printers, not only produces The Gazette and all of our publications, but also prints many area newspapers and does work for commercial customers. The folks there and our customers understand the importance of the review of these tariffs planned for August by the International Trade Commission. It is our hope the ITC does the responsible thing and eliminates the tariffs, and lets us continue to focus on doing the good work of journalism. More than 600,000 workers in our country are counting on it.

If you would like to learn more about this issue, please visit stopnewsprinttariffs.org for more information.

• Chris Edwards is president of The Gazette.

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

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