Freedom of the press, including our ability to convey to you Little League scores, church socials and how your local governments are performing, is under siege — by a single Washington state newsprint manufacturer owned by a New York hedge fund.
The North Pacific Paper Company (NORPAC), which hedge fund One Rock Capital Partners bought in 2016, petitioned the U.S. Department of Commerce earlier this year for newsprint tariffs that have reached about 30 percent. The firm, which employs fewer than 300, argues that Canadian newsprint companies that supply most U.S. newspapers have an unfair advantage by using Canadian government subsidies to undercut American prices.
The problem is that if you include NORPAC, the United States is down to five newsprint manufacturers, one of which is partially owned by Canadian interests and two others — in Georgia and Mississippi — are owned outright by Canada. There isn’t enough U.S.-produced newsprint to supply the nation’s newspapers. Not even close. And Canada didn’t drive U.S. manufacturers out of business. A 75 percent drop in newsprint consumption over the past two decades is responsible, fueled by the rise of the Internet and the resulting drastic reductions in revenues. (U.S. newspapers employed 426,000 two decades ago; it now has 150,000 workers, The Associated Press reported recently.)
To show you how devastating these tariffs are on newspapers large and small, consider that newsprint is a newspaper’s second-largest expense, behind employee salaries.
There might be some relief on the horizon. Three dozen federal lawmakers, including three Tennessee congressmen, testified against the tariffs Tuesday before the U.S. International Trade Commission.
“The damage this tariff will do to the newspaper and printing industries will be catastrophic,” testified Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn. “Less news will lead to an increasingly distant and ill-informed American citizen.”
He noted that the International Trade Commission singlehandedly could stop the tariffs and said he hoped his testimony would help. “This administration’s approach to trade is cavalier and ill-informed,” he said. “I cannot sit by and watch this country’s news industry be destroyed by federal overreach.”
Also testifying against the tariffs were Reps. Phil Roe and Chuch Fleischmann, two Tennessee Republicans.
“At a time when the print industry is already facing significant market challenges, I would urge you to consider the inevitable loss of domestic jobs that would be caused by increased tariffs on paper imports,” Roe testified.
Added Fleischmann: “Many newspapers will not be able to absorb a 30 percent price increase on newsprint ... . Even small per unit costs add up quickly, particularly if operating under razor thin margins.” He questioned NORPAC’s business model, saying the Longview, Wash., firm had managed to “anger their customers,” throw newspapers and commercial printing and book-publishing sectors into “turmoil,” and “risk cannibalizing future demand for their product.”
We applaud Cooper, Roe and Fleischmann for standing up against newsprint tariffs, which have been lost in the public outcry about U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum.
We urge our readers to click on https://www.stopnewsprinttariffs.org/join-the-fight-to-protect-u-s-jobs/ and sign the petition to end these unnecessary and catastrophic tariffs, which threaten the role of a free press — a hallmark of our representative democracy. And we urge you to call your lawmakers and speak out forcefully on behalf of the First Amendment.