Federal newsprint tariffs threaten to ‘jeopardize our news,’ put community newspapers at risk

By Ben Meyer
Managing Editor / Senior Reporter at News watch 12 WJFW-TV
The lights never go out at Christensen Printing and Publishing in Shawano.
President and CEO Rod Christensen’s plant operates 24 hours a day, cranking out about 135 magazines, shoppers, and local newspapers.
“They’re from all over Wisconsin,” Christensen said. “Every little community around here we pretty much print for.”
Local papers like the Forest Republican, Merrill Foto News, and Antigo Times roll off the presses. They’re all on newsprint from Canadian mills, like just about every newspaper in Wisconsin. Christensen takes in about 60 tons of the paper each week.
But this month, the U.S. Department of Commerce upped the tariff on Canadian newsprint to about 30 percent.
That’s hitting small newspapers and printers hard. Christensen said he’s now paying an extra $40,000 per month for newsprint compared to last year.
“In order for us to survive, we try to give the best deals we possibly can to our local communities,” he said. “That’s getting harder and harder to do with these new increases in pricing.”
Andrew Johnson owns and operates three weekly community newspapers in Dodge County. He’s also the vice president of the National Newspaper Association.
“This tariff would jeopardize our news in Wisconsin,” Johnson said in a Skype interview.
He’s worried the tariff could put some small Wisconsin newspapers out of business.
“We definitely are at risk of losing (them),” Johnson said. “If the prices go too high and/or we can’t get supply, we would go out.”
Johnson said the tariffs were triggered by a loophole in Commerce Department code. Lawyers and investors associated with a small newsprint-producing mill in Washington state found and exploited the loophole, starting the tariff.
This year, Johnson will lobby the Commerce Department to get rid of the tariffs. He’ll argue, in part, that a loss of newspapers could mean a loss of small towns.
“There is no one else that’s really interested in your communities,” Johnson said. “I think without that, the community would lose its identity.”
In Shawano, Christensen is frustrated with the tariffs.
At the same time, he keeps a positive outlook.
“We’ll be around for a long time to come,” he said. “There’s no doubt in my mind.”