Trade war threatens the U.S. newspaper industry

by Jackie Spinner June 22
As a longtime editor of small-town newspapers, Jeff Rogers has seen his industry face the collapse of print advertising, the rise of the Internet and more. Today, his 18 employees work in a newsroom here that puts out two daily newspapers for towns just 16 minutes apart, the Daily Gazette in Sterling and the Dixon Telegraph, which started up more than a century and a half ago.

Each publishes a few stories a day on its website and Facebook page — a sign of the times — but still tries to preserve a local print readership, putting its full reports in the newspapers that are available by home delivery and in the metal boxes dotting the local downtowns.

The newspapers, like the staff, are leaner than they were a decade ago, with fewer reporters to write about crime, the school board and youth sports and to craft obituaries for their aging readership.

And now they’re facing a new and unexpected threat: President Trump’s confrontational trade policies.

Last year, in one of the Trump administration’s first actions on trade, the U.S. government imposed tariffs on Canadian lumber. A few months later, it added tariffs on Canadian uncoated groundwood paper.

The result has been a jump in the cost of newsprint, the second-biggest operating expense, after salaries, for most newspapers. Rogers and fellow news executives across the country are now bracing for price increases that could exceed 30 percent, forcing tough budget decisions and potentially driving some community papers out of business.

“This may be the thing that pushes us across the line,” Rogers said. “We’re all kind of close to that edge.”

Shaw Media, one of the oldest family-owned newspaper companies in America and the publisher of the Daily Gazette and the Dixon Telegraph, has told some of its more than 150 publications in northern Illinois and Iowa to adhere to strict page counts to reduce costs. The Tampa Bay Times, a regional paper in Florida, is cutting up to 50 jobs because of the soaring paper costs, which affect every newspaper that publishes in America, including large national publications scorned by President Trump.
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