Trump tariffs hurting small-town newspapers

Montcalm County

GREENVILLE, Mich. (WOOD) — America is in a trade war and the weapons are tariffs.

There’s been a lot of talk about some of the tariffs set by the Trump administration, particularly those on steel and aluminum from China and Mexico. But one tax that may have slipped under most people’s radar could affect their morning routine. It’s on paper from Canada that newspapers use.

In March, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced two sets of tariffs on Canadian paper products, resulting in a tax on imported newsprint of up to 32 percent. Those tariffs were created following complaints from Washington state paper producer North Pacific Paper Company that said Canadian manufacturers were unfairly taking advantage of trade incentives. While North Pacific claims it has increased production and hired more American workers since then, there have been consequences for local newspapers.

Siblings Rob and Julie Stafford are the third generation in charge of a small publishing concern based in Greenville, where they produce the six-day per week Greenville Daily News. Covering parts of three counties, the paper covers school boards, city commissions and keeps an eye on all the area goings-on.

The Staffords also publish several other small papers, weeklies, free entertainment publications and the Grand Rapids Business Journal, as well as papers catering to the Hispanic, Jewish and Amish communities. They employ just over 100 people.

They say since the paper tariffs were introduced, their costs have climbed.

“Our newsprint, since last September, has gone up about 30-and-a-half percent, so that’s a big deal,” Rob Stafford said.

There are only a handful of American paper mills, none of which are in Michigan, and they are all at maximum capacity. That means there is no way to get paper from American companies and avoid the Canadian tariffs. That has threatened the survival of small papers nationwide.

“It will have an enormous impact in an industry that has already been enormously impacted,” said Julie Stafford, who oversees the production of the Daily News and is also on the board of directors of the Michigan Press Association. “I’m not a doom-and-gloomer. It is something that keeps us up at night trying to figure out how to make it all work.”

On Tuesday, 19 members of Congress from both parties told the U.S. International Trade Commission that the tariffs must end. Among them was U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Midland, who represents the Greenville area.

“These tariffs are targeting an industry that is already facing a lot of digital challenges and at the same time is such a vital part of our local community news. It’s just the wrong kind of tariff at the wrong time,” Moolenaar told 24 Hour News 8 Wednesday over the phone.

The tariffs on Canadian paper are among an enormous increase in tariffs under the Trump administration that is unlike anything seen since the Great Depression, according to economists.

“The negative impacts tend to take more time and the positive impacts tend to happen early, which is a favorite thing for politicians. Give me the goodies today and give me the costs tomorrow,” said Paul Isely, and economist and associate dean of undergraduate programs at Grand Valley State University’s Seidman College of Business.

“In essence, it’s the government picking winners and losers. By placing the tariff, you’re going to be a winner, and these people over here are going to be loser,” Isely continued. “And generally speaking, governments aren’t very good at that.“

Publishing industries employ about 600,000 people in the United States, according to Stop Tariffs on Printers & Publishers, a group of companies in the industry leading the charge against the newsprint tariffs. The group says 11,000 people from 50 states and more than 80 members of Congress have signed a petition against the tariffs.

A decision about whether the tariffs will continue is expected to come down in August.

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