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Commentary: Tariff on paper will hurt newspapers and their readers

By Paul C. Tash

Times Publishing Company

You have read about the new tariffs on imported aluminum and steel, and on products from China. Now it seems our own business — newspaper printing and publishing — will take some casualties in a trade war over paper.

This month, the U.S. government piled huge tariffs onto the imports of newsprint from Canada, including those from our biggest supplier. As a result, the price will jump from $600 to $800 for every ton, and we use about 17,000 tons every year.

That increase is more than 30 percent, and would add more than $3 million to the Tampa Bay Times’ annual newsprint bill.

You can multiply our example across the American newspaper industry, which is already facing strong headwinds. Historically, advertising provided the lion’s share of newspaper revenue, but in just 10 years, the recession and other market forces have cut those ad revenues by more than half.

Newspapers remain vital civic assets — nobody else will report on your community with the depth and breadth of a newspaper — but publishing them is not an easy business, and these tariffs will make it even harder. This is a kick in the teeth.

These tariffs will hurt our readers, because they create pressure to raise our prices, and they will force publishers to re-examine every other expense. Maybe we will drop some puzzles and comics — no big deal, unless we cut one that is your favorite.

These tariffs will also hurt our employees, because payroll is the only expense that is bigger than newsprint. To help offset the extra expense of paper, publishers will eliminate jobs. Make no mistake: These tariffs will cause layoffs across American newspapers, including this one.

These tariffs started with a single American newsprint manufacturer who complained that Canadian companies were “dumping” their product in the U.S. at below-market prices. In the current political climate, that complaint found a friendly ear in Washington.

Other American manufacturers opposed these tariffs because they know they will damage newspapers and reduce the demand for newsprint. But now that the tariffs are taking effect, the American companies are hiking their own prices, so we have little room to shop around.

Just about every American newspaper and all our trade associations are joining the fight to challenge these tariffs, but even if we succeed, it will take months to reverse this terrible decision. Meanwhile, prices will go up. Jobs will be lost. Important stories will go uncovered.

If you believe that newspapers do essential work, we would be grateful for your support. Please let your members of Congress and senators know that these reckless tariffs must be repealed — not just because they hurt newspapers, but because they will damage the customers and communities we serve.

Thank you for hearing us out.

— Paul C. Tash is the chairman and CEO of the Times Publishing Company, which publishes the Tampa Bay (Fla.) Times.

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