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Our View

Trade case could cripple America's newspapers

Local newspapers reach a larger audience today than ever before, but there’s no denying the rise of digital news has left fewer people who actually receive a printed copy of the newspaper every day.

Nonetheless, the printed version of the newspaper remains popular among discriminating readers, who appreciate its format, its navigability, the way it can deliver unexpected information on a broad range of topics.

But there could be fewer printed newspapers available across America if a federal trade investigation underway at the U.S. Department of Commerce results in a spike in newsprint prices.

The commerce department is investigating a claim that Canadian paper mills have been receiving unfair subsidies from their government and have been dumping newsprint in the U.S. market. (“Dumping” is the practice of selling a product for less than it costs to produce.)

The complaint was brought by one mill, North Pacific Paper Company (NORPAC), located in Longview, Washington. NORPAC was recently acquired by One Rock Capital Partners, a New York-based hedge fund.

If federal trade authorities agree with NORPAC’s complaint, they could impose
import fees that range as high as
50 percent on newsprint. Such fees would cause steep increases in the price of newsprint.

That would be good for NORPAC and the hedge-funders, but crippling for small newspapers, which can ill afford higher overhead costs as they struggle to navigate a time of declining revenue.

We side with more than 1,100 newspapers across the country, whose leaders signed a letter urging Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to heavily scrutinize these trade protectionist petitions.

NORPAC is incorrectly claiming that the steady decline in the newsprint market is a result of a trade matter, instead of acknowledging that the downward market for newsprint has been caused by many factors, including disruption in the retail sector and a decadelong shift toward digital media. In the past 10 years, there has been a 30 percent decline in print newspaper subscriptions.

We hope federal regulators will see this petition for what it is – an attempt by a hedge fund to use trade laws and protectionist sentiment in Washington, D.C., to increase the short-term value of one mill.

If the Department of Commerce does determine these duties on Canadian newsprint are necessary, they could become effective in January. Then the International Trade Commission would commence with a full investigation, which could override the duties, modify them or keep them in place.

But if these duties go through, newspaper readers – in other words, the public at large – will suffer. Newspapers will reduce the number of days they publish. They could be forced to raise subscription prices, or they could be forced to shut down altogether.  

Readers will lose access to information and hundreds of others will lose jobs in publishing and paper manufacturing.

Local newspapers are a key link between citizens and their communities. Those that lack them are prime targets for corruption, mismanagement and neglect.

We urge citizens to contact their legislators and ask them to stand against increased duties and tariffs on newsprint. We urge Illinois’ senators and representatives to contact federal regulators and warn them about the negative effects of disrupting the U.S. newsprint market.

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