Tuesday, December 11, 2018

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Tariffs threaten 600,000 newspaper jobs

SDNA| Newspapers are used to operating on tight deadlines, and they are facing one right now.

Tim Bjorkman stands with papers as they seek to overturn the exorbitant tariffs on the import of Canadian newsprint. As a lifelong newspaper reader, Bjorkman, the Democratic candidate for South Dakota’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, said he wants the industry to grow stronger, and that will be difficult with these costly trade barriers in place.

They are costing newspapers millions of dollars and threatening the jobs of 600,000 people as well as impacting the American tradition of an informed citizenry.

He supports the efforts of Stop Tariffs on Printers & Publishers and the News Media Alliance as they call on the International Trade Commission (ITC) to reserve the tariffs. Tim has signed a petition asking the ITC to act and urges all South Dakotans to join him in this fight.

“These tariffs must be overturned,” Bjorkman said. “They benefit one company while harming hundreds of newspapers and threatening the jobs of thousands of people.”

The tariff a tax on newspapers, in reality — was put into place to benefit a single mill owned by a New York private equity firm that seeks to use punitive tariffs to protect its bottom line. Black Hills Pioneer publisher Letti Lister said the mill registered “a bogus complaint” that caused the tariffs to be imposed.

That mill could not produce enough paper to supply the demands of American newspapers, Lister said. In fact, virtually all the newsprint used by South Dakota newspapers is produced in Canada, but the complaint from North Pacific Paper Company, owned by New York hedge fund One Rock Capital Partners, caused first a 6.53 percent tariff to be imposed on Canadian paper, followed by a 22 percent tariff.

Those price increases have been passed along to newspapers and their readers.

“As a result of just the mere threat of these tariffs, our company has incurred four price increases, (over 20 percent) on our newsprint costs since November 2017,” Lister said. “So far we have absorbed these costs, but I do not know how much longer we can do that. And more are on the way — we could see them go as high as 50 percent total.”

The Pioneer, based in Spearfish, prints newspapers from area communities as well as four Wyoming newspapers and papers from Indian reservations. It also does print jobs for grocery stores.

“It’s going to impact all of that. They’re either going to cut back in paper counts or qualities,” Lister said. “We’ve been absorbing these costs but we’re not going to be able to do that.”

She said many American paper mills have closed in the last decade, forcing newspapers to turn to Canada.

“I would much rather buy from American firms and help American jobs, but it’s just not available,” Lister said. “The fact is, the product isn’t there for us.”

Sen. Mike Rounds has agreed to co-sponsor a Senate bill to stop the tariffs, Sen. John Thune agreed to sign the bill and Rep. Kristi Noem has also co-sponsored a House bill to do the same. Lister said they welcome Bjorkman’s support and hope all South Dakotans will join the effort and sign the petition.

If the tariffs aren’t lifted, there will be a tremendous impact.

“We’re going to lose employees. We’re probably going to have to cut back on pages of our paper,” she said. “We’re going to have to tighten up. We’re going to lose some print jobs over that, which in turn the state will lose revenue.”

Matt Anderson owns Anderson Publications, based in Canistota, where Bjorkman lives. It publishes the Canistota Clipper, the Montrose Herald, the Minnehaha Messenger, the Marion Record, the Alexandria Herald, the Emery Enterprise, Hometown Shopper, Shopping Guide and is part of the team that produces the Eastern SD Peach.

Those publications are published in Madison and if the tariffs are not lifted, newsprint costs will increase, Anderson said. He has 10 employees and said additional costs will impact his company.

Grant County Review co-owner Debbie Hemmer said her Milbank newspaper will make reductions if the tariffs are not lifted. The paper is printed in Ortonville, Minn., and has so far seen a 15 percent increase in newsprint costs, followed by a 10-percent hike. More may follow, and eventually, those increases will force the paper to make changes.

“It’s going to mean we’re going to have to cut corners in some places,” Hemmer said. “We’re going to have to look at our employees and where can we cut hours if need be.”

She said they will reduce pages and coverage.

“You won’t see that cute little picture of somebody’s grandchild out there,” Hemmer said. “That’s going to disappear from the newspaper, that feel-good stuff. Some of the smaller papers, they’re not going to be able to weather the storm,” she said. “You may be seeing some of these smaller papers disappear.”

The ITC will meet on July 17, so time is running out. To sign the petition, go to www.stopnewsprinttariffs.org/join-the-fight-to-protect-u-s-jobs/

People also are encouraged to share the petition via email and on social media and to follow STOPP on Twitter and visit its website and Facebook page. Bjorkman is doing so and he asks you to help our newspapers overturn this damaging tariff.