It is well known that newspapers across America have been struggling for years because of depressed advertising revenue and declining circulation caused by a myriad of factors. Of all those factors, changing readership and a highly competitive media market flooded with content, stand out the most. As a result, newspapers, both large and small, have been pushed to innovate — or die.
Regrettably, many newspapers are forced to downsize their staffs while trying to juggle the demands of innovation and still provide quality journalism and advertising information. This occurred at the Salt Lake Tribune last week. The nearly 150-year-old newspaper, which won the distinguished Pulitzer Prize in 2017, cut its editorial staff by a third because of unexpected sharp declines in print circulation and advertising revenues, according to owner and publisher Paul Huntsman.
The Salt Lake Tribune isn’t the only newspaper in Utah facing such challenges. Other dailies, plus several weekly and twice-weekly community newspapers across the state, face the same hardships. That includes the 124-year-old Tooele Transcript Bulletin. We too have had to tighten our belt and make changes in response to declining revenues.
But what has made matters far worse for us and other newspapers has nothing to do with changing readership and market competition. When the U.S. Department of Commerce, as ordered by the Trump Administration, began to impose tariffs, newspapers and the overall publishing industry, got hit in the face with a sledgehammer.
Most newsprint and uncoated paper is not made in America; it’s made in Canada. Which means newspapers, such as ours, suddenly saw its newsprint costs, because of tariffs on Canadian-made newsprint, rise as much as 34 percent from a year ago. Undoubtedly, there are small newspapers across America that are either shutting down or are on the verge of closing because they can’t make payroll. Larger dailies are cutting staff, reducing page counts and taking other drastic steps to stay viable.
Tariffs are intended to help domestic companies better compete against foreign competitors that receive government subsidies. But in this case, there is no longer a long list of paper mills in the United States that produce newsprint. To say Canadian paper mills have a corner on the market is an understatement. Without an abundance of U.S. paper mills making newsprint, newspapers are forced to pay a higher price to get the news into readers’ hands.
But perhaps help is on the way. As reported on page A2 in last Tuesday’s edition, a bipartisan coalition of U.S. Senators has introduced a billed called “Protecting Rational Incentives in Newsprint Trade Act.” The PRINT Act would suspend tariffs currently being imposed on imported newsprint from Canada. It would also require the U.S. Department of Commerce to review the economic health of printing and publishing industries.
Clearly, something must be done. It is hoped the PRINT Act succeeds in stopping tariffs on newsprint and results in a greater understanding of the overall publishing industry. Continued tariffs on Canadian newsprint pose a direct threat to the Tooele Transcript Bulletin and other newspapers across America. Because of the vital function newspapers serve, and their role in helping to maintain our nation’s democracy, communities that have a newspaper — including Tooele County — stand threatened as well.