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02/02/2018

New paper tariffs could cost jobs at US publishers

From The Columbia Journalism Review

Staff at The Buffalo News in upstate New York can see Canada out their cafeteria window. If traffic is light, it’s 10 minutes by car from their newsroom at 1 News Plaza to the Peace Bridge—which, halfway across the Niagara River, becomes Queen Elizabeth Way, Fort Erie.

This proximity to the border is convenient for Bryan Carr, who’s responsible for the print edition of the News. Transporting newsprint—the thin, low-grade paper that arrives as thick rolls and leaves as stacks of newspapers—is a major cost. The mills that make this paper for the News are a few hours’ drive away in Quebec: east of Ottawa and Montreal, respectively. Big trucks stocked with Canadian newsprint roll into Buffalo most days of the week.

But what used to be a thin gray line on a Google map is turning into a hard paywall for Carr and thousands of other publishers across America. In mid-January, the US Department of Commerce slapped a tariff on Canadian newsprint, which is used by around 75 percent of US publishers and is particularly prevalent in the Northeast. Even though the duty may yet be reversed, American newspapers—already struggling to go to print in an era of rapidly declining circulation—have to pay it in the meantime. Many publishers fear it’ll add upward of 10 percent to their print costs, and could even result in job losses. “It’s putting a lot of fear into newspaper employees across the country,” says Carr. “This is the worst time, probably in newspaper history, to be imposing tariffs.”

The tariff will affect publishers of all sizes, from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal on down. But smaller papers will be hardest hit.

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