When Superman made his comic-book debut in 1938, he and his red cape were distributed to comic fans across the country on pages of newsprint. Copies of his Action Comics issue were thin and flexible and could easily be rolled up and stuffed in a kid’s back pocket as he rode his bike to his friend’s house to show off his new superhero idol. The American news industry also got its start and still relies heavily on newsprint, with news traveling around the globe before landing in the pages of a local daily newspaper. But that tradition of opening a printed newspaper or comic book and finding something new and delightful inside could be in danger of ending.
With preliminary countervailing and anti-dumping duties recently announced by the U.S. Department of Commerce, American publishers that use newsprint — such as newspapers, books, directories, etc. — could take a significant financial hit or, worse, could be without an adequate supply of their most important raw material. With the new anti-dumping duties ranging up to 22.16 percent, and countervailing duties that range from 4.4 to 9.9 percent, tariffs on imports of Canadian newsprint climb as high as 32 percent for some Canadian manufacturers. While an investigation in the case continues, Canadian paper producers must pay these duties at the border now, and those costs are being handed off to newspapers and others.
In recent weeks, newspapers have seen steep price increases and disruptions in the supply of newsprint, all of which has been brought to us by one company, North Pacific Paper Corporation (NORPAC), which petitioned the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) to “level the playing field” in the North American newsprint market. According to NORPAC’s petition, they claim that imports of cheap Canadian newsprint is damaging to the U.S. newsprint industry as a whole. However, no other paper mills have signed on to NORPAC’s complaint and, in fact, several other mills, as well as the paper industry’s U.S. trade group, American Forest and Paper Association, oppose the petition. Yet, because of the low bar for these types of petitions, the Department of Commerce and the ITC allowed the investigation to proceed.
Everyone — except NORPAC — recognizes that the demand for newsprint has been in a decades-long decline due to digital alternatives for news, information and advertising. In fact, in North America demand for newsprint has gone down by 75 percent since the year 2000. Where dozens of U.S. mills used to roll out newsprint across the country, many instead now churn out cardboard to be used in boxes for shipping online retail orders.
The irony here is that the proposed trade remedies that the Department of Commerce has proposed will simply hurt NORPAC and other U.S. producers over the long-term. Knowing that they cannot absorb these rising costs in production, publishers and printers are already taking measures to reduce their exposure. Some small market daily newspapers have reduced print distribution from seven days a week to only three. Many other newspapers are reducing their page counts or moving toward a shorter web width to be leaner. If these tariffs are upheld by the ITC and Commerce in their final determinations later this year, some newspapers may simply go out of business.
In many small communities across the country, the printed newspaper is the primary source of local news and how citizens stay connected with one another. It is also a way in which the Fourth Estate keeps an eye on those who govern, and for those same elected officials to communicate directly with their constituents. Now, one company is gaming our nation’s trade laws in a way that could result in limiting or ending the distribution of news in small towns all across America. This will not be a good outcome for our nation, our political discourse or our democracy.
What can you do to help stop this from happening? The News Media Alliance and other newspaper and printing associations in Stop Tariffs on Printers and Publishers (STOPP) are fighting these unwarranted and damaging tariffs as the International Trade Commission begins its final investigation in this case.
Newspapers can help in two ways: First, let your readers know what is at stake with this newsprint trade dispute brought forward by NORPAC. Second, please contact your representatives and senators in the U.S. Congress, as well as your governors, and ask that they encourage the ITC to reject newsprint tariffs and protect not only the distribution of news and information in our communities but also the hundreds of thousands of jobs in the U.S. publishing and printing industries.
We’ve all experienced the joy that comes from opening a newspaper or comic book and discovering something new and unexpected, whether it be a news story from some far-off corner of the world or the wonders of Superman. If these newsprint tariffs stand, we risk depriving generations of new readers of this same joy of turning the page to stumble upon something truly magical.