Americans who care about the future of the newspaper industry — and those who value information and democracy — should pay close attention to a bill introduced in the U.S. Senate Monday.
The measure would suspend devastating tariffs on imported newsprint. Sens. Claire McCaskill and Roy Blunt of Missouri and Jerry Moran of Kansas are original co-sponsors of the bill, a rare demonstration of bipartisan concern that indicates the seriousness of the problem.
Early this year, the Commerce Department, prompted by a complaint from a U.S. newsprint producer, enacted new tariffs on newsprint imported from Canada. The import duties now exceed 30 percent in some cases, costing book publishers and newspaper companies millions of dollars.
Those additional costs are passed on to consumers who buy books and newspapers.
That has prompted some readers to cancel their subscriptions, further damaging an industry already reeling from declining advertising and circulation revenue.
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U.S. newsprint producers have complained of unfair competition from their Canadian counterparts, but the real motive is clear: Use the federal government to ensure a bigger profit. "One domestic mill owned by a venture capital firm appears to be taking advantage of trade remedies to add to its own bottom line," Sen. Susan Collins, the bill's sponsor, said in a statement Monday.
Artificially pushing up the price of newsprint is short-sighted. Already, many newspapers are cutting costs while focusing more on digital publishing.
But it's a long-term concern as well. If newsprint prices are too high, newspapers could cut back production, further diminishing the market for newsprint in the U.S.
"Local news, and newspapers that provide it are critical pieces of a community and our democracy," McCaskill said in a statement.
Collins' bill would not ban the new tariffs. Instead, it would order the Commerce Department to study the health of newspapers and the newsprint industry and then report back within 90 days.
The tariffs would be suspended until the report is finished. The administration would then determine if the tariffs are in the "economic interest" of the nation.
Some readers will see our support for the bill as self-serving, but our opposition to protectionist tariffs has been clear.
Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, who has some knowledge of the newspaper industry, should join his colleagues and co-sponsor the bill.
The Star remains firmly committed to the highest quality reporting in the region. Some will consume that journalism on a phone or computer, while others still prefer a printed product.
Those customers should not have to pay more to line the pockets of hedge fund investors with connections in Washington. The newsprint tariff bill deserves support.
THIS EDITORIAL WAS FIRST PUBLISHED IN THE KANSAS CITY STAR.