American newspapers are under attack — from a Pacific Northwest paper company and the U.S. government.
It's an odd and unfortunate situation that will drive up costs for newspapers, including this one, unless the government reverses itself.
As you probably know, newspapers already face strong economic headwinds. Online shopping via big-name websites has hurt local merchants, whose advertising is the financial foundation of this newspaper and others. Meanwhile, many readers have shifted from print newspapers to online versions, although both versions have their attributes.
Like other newspapers, it's our job to adapt to changing readership habits and advertising opportunities. We have no desire to reduce our services and our local community coverage.
But a paper mill in Longview, Washington, is taking a different tack: It's crying foul, claiming foreign competitors don't play fairly.
North Pacific Paper Co., which produces newsprint and other paper, claims the Canadian government subsidizes Canadian paper manufacturers, enabling them to "dump" — that is, sell — their products at below-market prices in the U.S. The U.S. Department of Commerce bought that argument and has imposed substantial newsprint tariffs on newsprint imported from Canada.
The result has been a 20 to 30 percent jump in newsprint prices around the U.S. Newsprint already is the second-largest cost, next to personnel, for publishers. You can see that the price hike will have a big impact.
It's not only the economics that concern us. It's mind-boggling that the Commerce Department accepted such a weak argument. Yes, paper mills have closed in Oregon and around the U.S. But Canadian competition is not the reason. The reality is that newsprint demand throughout North America has dropped 75 percent since 2000 as technology has replaced paper.
Most folks understand that. The tariffs, or duties, are opposed by the majority of U.S. newsprint manufacturers; by their trade association, the American Forest and Paper Association; and by newspapers and their trade groups, including the Oregon Newspaper Publishers Association.
The opponents also include a wide range of other groups, such as the Heritage Foundation, religious publications, book companies and chambers of commerce.
By boosting costs, these tariffs will harm local businesses, including commercial printers, bookstores, directory publishers and newspapers. Unlike Wall Street and the hedge fund that owns North Pacific Paper, most local businesses survive on thin operating margins. Forced to spend more in one area, they must trim elsewhere — and the local economy suffers.
That's why we'd like your help. We'd be most appreciative if you could take a moment to contact members of Oregon's congressional delegation, asking them to overturn the "countervailing" and "antidumping" duties being imposed by the Commerce Department on Canadian newsprint and similar paper.
Your voice matters.
So does the voice of community newspapers across this great nation.
— East Oregonian