Lawmakers, news executives: Tariffs hurting local journalism, communities

The International Trade Commission heard testimony on Tuesday.
(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)
Published July 17, 2018|Updated July 18, 2018

WASHINGTON – Nearly 20 lawmakers as well as newspaper executives, including Chairman and CEO Paul Tash of the Tampa Bay Times, testified Tuesday against newsprint tariffs that have already had severe effects on a struggling industry.

"I am here today because tariffs on newsprint are causing tremendous damage to American newspapers. The tariffs will harm local communities that newspapers serve. And soon, the tariffs will hurt our newsprint producers, including the one that brought this case," Tash said in prepared testimony before the U.S. International Trade Commission.

The ITC is reviewing whether U.S. producers of certain groundwood paper products, including newsprint, have been materially injured because of imports from Canada. The commission's findings play a critical role in whether the Department of Commerce makes the tariffs permanent. Newsprint is generally the second-largest expense for local papers. The tariffs have increased prices by 25 to 30 percent, as the Associated Press reported.

The Times, which has laid off 50 employees this year, expects the tariffs to add $3.5 million a year to newsprint expenses.

North Pacific Paper Company, which sought the tariffs, said government action allowed it to hire American workers and restore pay cuts.

A bipartisan group of 19 lawmakers voiced opposition to the tariffs — a major showing for an ITC hearing.

"The tariffs will hurt the U.S. paper industry because they will cause permanent harm to newspapers, printers, and book publishers, shrinking the U.S. paper industry's customer base," said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

"In fact, the tariffs will likely lead to less production of newsprint by U.S. manufacturers as customers cut their consumption once and for all. This is simply not the way Congress intended the trade laws to work."

Collins has introduced the PRINT Act to stop the tariffs while effects on the printing and publishing industry are reviewed.

Related: Charlie Crist, Gus Bilirakis team up to fight newspaper tariffs

On Tuesday, Tash told the ITC that despite "staggering changes" in the industry, communities still rely on newspapers in print.

"The Tampa Bay Times is committed to uncovering stories the public needs to know. We exposed how our school board re-segregated elementary schools and turned them into failure factories," his testimony read. "We revealed deadly conditions in Florida's mental institutions. For our efforts, we've received 12 Pulitzers, including prizes for investigative and local reporting. But we don't set out to win prizes. We do try to make the world a better place.

"Two decades ago, we broke the story of a sheriff in the Florida Panhandle who was routinely bringing female inmates to his office, where he forced himself sexually upon them. Our reporting earned something much more important than journalistic acclaim. It brought justice. That sheriff went to prison.

"When we broke that story, our newsroom employed about 400 people. Today, we are down to 140. We can't cover as many stories as we used to, and we can't check as many dark places like that sheriff's office. This may not be a problem here in Washington. There are plenty of reporters in the major media centers. But in most cities and towns across the country, a story will likely never come to light unless the local paper covers it."

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.