Newsprint supply is tightening, and you are affected

Published 8:19 pm Saturday, March 31, 2018

The paper used to print the Suffolk News-Herald you hold in your hands costs 10 percent more than it did just a few weeks ago — and is likely to cost as much as 40 percent more in coming months, newspaper industry experts predict.

In what sounds like a farfetched scenario, tightening American newsprint supplies could threaten newspapers’ ability to print at all, the same experts say.

Forces beyond the control of the Suffolk News-Herald — and thousands of community newspapers like us across America — are to blame, but the responses from many papers will be noticeable to you. Many are strategies the Suffolk News-Herald has already adopted over the years:

  • You can expect to see fewer pages as newspapers exclude non-local content and features. Wire news services will be dropped, or their use greatly curtailed.
  • Many newspapers also have minimum page counts, and you can expect these to be lowered or eliminated.
  • Paid newspapers will increase subscription and newsstand rates.
  • Newspapers will undertake renewed efforts to build their online audience. Many newspapers boast greater overall readership now thanks to large online audiences. Some papers will have exclusive online content that was left out of the paper due to new space restrictions.
  • E-editions, which are an exact digital duplication of the printed product, will become more common and promoted heavily. They will not replace the current websites but will provide a digital alternative to readers who like the layout and flow of a printed product.
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The Suffolk News-Herald has embraced most of the items noted above already, with the exception of subscription and newsstand price increases, but we will continue seeking ways to reduce newsprint without sacrificing the hyper-local news focus that has earned us the loyalty of so many readers.

We will focus on fine-tuning our newsstand distribution to reduce leftover papers in our racks. You will probably see more empty racks in the afternoons. We will still service our racks; we will simply make every effort to adjust our quantities to make sure every paper we print finds its way into the hands of a reader.

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Why is newsprint becoming more expensive and scarcer? Two reasons: one long in the making, the other recent.

Because of the struggles of big-city newspapers, newsprint consumption in America has decreased dramatically over the past two decades. As demand dropped, many American newsprint mills closed or converted to making other paper products.

Newsprint mills in neighboring Canada filled supply gaps as domestic production capacity dwindled. The result was market equilibrium and stable newsprint prices for much of the past decade — until last summer, when a small, hedge fund-owned newsprint mill in faraway Washington state caused a market jolt that no one saw coming.

North Pacific Paper Co., or NORPAC, complained to the U.S. Department of Commerce and the International Trade Commission that Canadian producers were violating trade laws by receiving government loan assistance and harvesting trees on government land — advantages that allowed them to sell paper in the United States cheaper than American mills could. No other paper manufacturers have complained.

Pending results of an investigation that is ongoing, preliminary duties against Canadian producers of 7 percent to 10 percent began in January, followed by an additional 22 percent in March. Major newsprint makers, most of whom have mills in both countries, have announced major price increases in response.

Community newspapers like ours represent a sliver of newspaper demand. Despite still-healthy print readership, we alone cannot create enough demand to stimulate the U.S. newsprint market and bring shuttered mills back to life. Yet our need for newsprint to fulfill our obligation to readers is as enduring as that of the Washington Post or New York Times.

How can you help? If you are so inclined, call Sen. Tim Kaine, Sen. Mark Warner, Rep. Bobby Scott and Rep. Donald McEachin and ask them to take a stand for community newspapers. You or I cannot express an opinion to the Department of Commerce or International Trade Commission, but senators and representatives can.

In a worst-case scenario of newsprint becoming so scarce that we cannot print a newspaper, our website, social media and daily e-newsletter will continue to provide local news for Suffolk. We are working hard with other community newspapers and industry partners to prevent that from happening, but we’ll be ready if it does.

 

John Carr is publisher of the Suffolk News-Herald. He can be reached at 757.934.9605 or john.carr@suffolknewsherald.com.