No one is asking anyone to take pity on newspapers.
We are quite used to catching it from all quarters for pursuing the truth and championing the public’s right to know. In the past decade, newspapers and the printed word in general have also faced off against unparalleled changes in our industries.
From the migration to digital from print, shifting business models, stiff competition from electronic media and unprecedented attacks from the Trump administration, times have never been tougher.
Unlike some industries in transition, we have not called on government to grant us special legislation to spare our bottom line, abandon regulations or grant us tax credits.
However, this year the Trump administration imposed import tariffs on uncoated groundwood paper — better known as newsprint — from Canada.
These tariffs — as high as 32 percent — are an additional cost that pose a serious threat not just to an entire industry, but to tens of thousands of jobs. Not just in the newspaper industry, either, but to paper manufacturers, book publishers and commercial printers.
Still, as great as the threat is that these tariffs pose to the livelihoods of an estimated 600,000 workers in the U.S. printing and publishing industries, another one looms even larger.
That is the threat to the rights of a free press embodied in the First Amendment and its ability to serve as a watchdog on government.
President Trump has made it clear he is not a supporter of the media, and this is obviously another attempt by him to muzzle the press. From proposing weakened libel laws to taking away credentials and relentless social media attacks and cries of “fake news,” his actions smack of a despot.
This week, a bipartisan group of 10 U.S. senators, including Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, introduce legislation to freeze these Canadian newsprint tariffs.
S. 2835, the “Protecting Rational Incentives in Newsprint Trade Act” — PRINT Act — would suspend the new tariffs on newsprint from Canada.
At the same time, it would require the Department of Commerce to study these tariffs’ impact on the printing and publishing industries in a report within 90 days.
As we understand trade laws and their application, they are designed to shield domestic industries, not do them irreparable harm.
Much like the Trump administration, there is no sense of sanity embodied in these tariffs on newsprint.
We urge Sen. Joe Manchin and the rest of our state’s congressional delegation to support the PRINT Act.
This additional tax on newspapers’ most essential raw material cripples our future viability.
And if you read the fine print, it effectively could silence a free press.