The Anniston Star flag

The Anniston Star's name is seen on the outside of Consolidated Publishing Co.'s Anniston headquarters.

By Star staff

Tariffs and their potential to harm Americans are hot topics this month. As President Donald Trump has amped up threats to engage in a trade war with China, Beijing has responded by suggesting U.S. products it would place tariffs on in response.

High on China’s proposed tariff list are U.S. agricultural products, including soybeans, wheat, corn, cotton, sorghum, tobacco and beef.

This plan is enough to rattle every farmer and farming community in the country. What’s more, the pain won’t be confined to the heartland. Every American who shops to put food on the table would eventually feel the pain in their pocketbooks.

If farmers and the rest of the nation are seeking a foretaste of what may come, they need only to look at U.S. tariffs placed earlier this year on Canadian newsprint and what they are doing to newspapers across America.

The tariffs are causing steep increases in the price of newsprint and, unless something changes, these costs will rise by up to 40 percent in coming months. Newsprint is typically the second-highest expense faced by a newspaper, second only to salaries.

The details of how we got to this point are quite a story.

Late last year, the owners of a newsprint producer based in Longview, Wash., North Pacific Paper Co., asked the federal government to place tariffs on Canadian newsprint producers, the prime suppliers to U.S. newspapers. North Pacific Paper Co., which employs a few hundred people, was recently purchased by a hedge fund in New York City.

It’s important to note that other U.S.-based paper plants and the American Forest and Paper Association trade group are not supporting the tariffs on Canadian paper. That’s because American producers of newsprint are currently running at an estimated 97 percent of their capacity.

Newspapers are already suffering because of these tariffs. If they remain in place, industry observers predict that newspapers will see a decrease in staffing and an increase in the costs to purchase a paper or advertise in it. In some cases, newspapers might be forced to shut their doors, depriving a community of the institution that informs and brings together the people who call that place home.

To illustrate the value of a community newspaper, let’s examine Thursday’s edition of The Star. The news included details on Jacksonville tornado recovery, updates on a homicide in Rabbittown, a deadly interstate crash, good news for local home-sellers, praise for Sen. Richard Shelby’s recent assignment as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, features on high school track and soccer athletes, an interview with a local actress starring in CAST’s production of “The Wiz” and many more items of community interest that are otherwise unavailable in print here in the community.

Multiply this times hundreds of newspapers in hundreds of communities, and the stakes of these unfair tariffs on Canadian newsprint come into focus.

We’d like to commend two Alabama congressmen — Reps. Bradley Byrne, R-Fairhope, and Gary J. Palmer, R-Hoover— for speaking up on behalf of community newspapers. They recently wrote a letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, calling attention to these tariffs.

“The local newspaper is the heart and soul of small town America,” Byrne and Palmer wrote. “Their coverage of local events binds communities together.”

We thank Byrne and Palmer for stepping up, and encourage all of Alabama’s senators, representatives and their constituents to do the same.