— Frederick Douglass
I don’t live in a world of conspiracy theories. I prefer facts, and I detest lies.
If the opening of this column reads like the valve of a pressure cooker was just released, it’s been a while since my words occupied this space. So that analogy may befit the words that follow.
No, I don’t care much for conspiracy theories. I guess theories in general are fine, but that conspiracy part is what grinds my gears. Even the definition – a secret plan by a group to do something unlawful or harmful – just makes me cringe.
Now, I know what I’m about to discuss may be received about as well as a Baptist preacher at a Church of Christ revival, considering the conservative majority of my audience in Middle Tennessee. But keep in mind, this is our livelihoods we’re talking about. This is what I have done for the past 17 years, and I believe the industry that has taken my blood, sweat and tears is under attack. Think about how you’d feel if someone tried to discredit, dismantle and discard your career.
I don’t believe I have to tell you how important newspapers are, especially those found in communities like Wilson County. With that said, my theory is the Trump administration is systematically attempting to destroy the newspaper industry in America. Here are the facts.
First, the Department of Commerce recently announced countervailing and anti-dumping duties on Canadian imports of newsprint. These duties range as high as 32 percent. The sole petitioner that seeks protection is North Pacific Paper Co., a single mill in Washington state that is owned by a New York–based hedge fund.
No other U.S. newsprint mills have supported NORPAC, and the American Forest and Paper Industry opposes its petitions. Why? The rest of the industry knows that these tariffs will cause damage to newspapers and ultimately reduce the demand for newsprint.
Put into layman’s terms, tariffs proposed by the Trump administration seek to drive the price of paper produced in Canada and imported by the U.S. up by as much as 32 percent, and it’s all due to this one company that really isn’t in the paper business, anyway.
Historically, advertising revenue supported the newspaper. The recession and market forces cut our print ad revenues in half in the last 10 years. With less print advertising, newspapers use less newsprint. In fact, the demand for newsprint in North America has declined by 75 percent since 2000. The decline in the newsprint market is not caused by any unfair trade.
Since the tariffs were announced and collected at the border, newspapers have experienced price increases of 20–30 percent. Publishers are not able to absorb the costs. We will have to consider raising prices on readers and advertisers and cutting back on news distribution. Not only will newspapers suffer, but also our workers, readers and advertisers.
So that’s probably the biggest fact, and probably one that’s a hard pill to swallow for faithful and even casual readers of this newspaper. Unfortunately, there’s more.
President Trump increased tariffs on imported steel by 25 percent and imported aluminum by 10 percent just a few weeks ago. But what does that matter in the newspaper industry, you might ask?
Well not so much steel, unless there’s a intricate piece to the press – most of which were manufactured by German companies – that needs to be replaced at some point. But that aluminum component affects newspapers significantly. You see, our press crew burns one aluminum plate for every two pages of the printed newspaper. The plates are durable, yet pliable, and are fastened against big drums once the images and text are burned onto them. It’s how the images are transferred onto the newsprint. It’s quite an impressive process, and I invite anyone to come take a tour sometime.
Just to ease concerns from anyone who may be thinking it, we go to great lengths to recycle all the aluminum and paper we use.
Fortunately, the plates we use are made in the U.S., but the aluminum itself is imported from Belgium. That, coupled with increased prices in the market as a whole, means increased material costs for newspapers.
So there’s that. But you may be asking yourself, “Why don’t you just go to an all-digital product?” Well, there are several reasons, but the most important is our advertisers. Newspapers still make substantial revenues from print advertising from advertisers who prefer it. And, if you’re reading this column in print, you’re one example that print advertising works.
There is a growing audience of readers who prefer to get their news digitally. I’m not sure if this translates logically, but the average print newspaper is read by 2.5 people. Now, consider about 5,000 different people on average read at least one story on our website each day. So, yeah, we have a growing digital audience.
But it appears even the digital side of newspapers is under attack through the repeal of net neutrality and recent decisions made by Facebook.
Since the Trump administration’s net neutrality repeal took effect last week, there is currently nothing that can be done to stop any internet service provider from slowing down the speeds by which media websites load – except those that may promote the Trump agenda like Breitbart or Fox News.
Then, there’s Facebook that recently made the decision to limit actual news from newsfeeds with the preference going to friends and family. That one probably has little to nothing to do with the Trump administration, but with the recent revelations regarding the Cambridge Analytica scandal, who knows?
And then there are the accusations of fake news from Trump and others just because they don’t like what’s reported – it’s enough to pull your hair out. Look at me. I don’t have much left to spare.
In case you’re wondering, I am concerned. But it only further fuels the fire to do my best to report the news. In fact, the flames just got higher.
But if you’re wondering whether we’re going anywhere, the answer is emphatically no. We pledge to deliver the news to our communities the best way we know how, even if we have to revert to shouting it from the rooftop like the town crier did many years ago. In the name of democracy, our collective voice won’t be silenced.
Jared Felkins is the proud editor of The Lebanon Democrat. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @paperboyfelkins.