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Tribune/Barry KoughMassive rolls of newsprint feed the high-speed offset press at TPC Holdings in Lewiston. The rising price of newsprint is forcing some Northwest newspapers to watch their budgets closely.

Escalating prices for the paper they print on are creating a challenge for newspapers throughout the region.

In response to rising newsprint costs, TPC Holdings — the parent company of the Lewiston Tribune and the Moscow-Pullman Daily News — has passed on some of that increase to the more than 10 weekly and university newspapers it prints in north central Idaho and southeastern Washington, Chief Financial Officer Justin Ralston said.

Publishers of five area newspapers contacted for this story said they haven’t laid off employees, but they are watching money carefully.

Sarah Klement, publisher of the Idaho County Free Press, said newsprint prices were a factor in a recent decision to increase subscription rates. The Lewiston Tribune and Daily News adjusted subscription rates earlier this year, but it was not because of newsprint costs, said Nathan Alford, editor and publisher of the two papers.

Tariffs of as much as 30 percent levied by the Trump administration on imports of Canadian uncoated groundwood paper used to make newsprint are one reason for the cost increase, according to Stop Tariffs on Printers & Publishers (STOPP), a coalition of press associations and other groups.

The tariffs were imposed on a temporary basis in March. The International Trade Commission is examining the issue, and a final decision on how high the tariffs will be is expected in mid-September after hearings and other public input.

North Pacific Paper Co., in Longview, Wash., which makes uncoated groundwood paper, successfully argued for the tariffs, according to STOPP.

The company, owned by a New York hedge fund, asked the U.S. Department of Commerce if Canadians were being subsidized by their government and dumping products in the United States, said David Richey, a spokesman for North Pacific Paper.

Preliminary findings identified 34 different subsidies and another 28 to investigate, Richey said.

After the initial decision in March, North Pacific re-activated one of its three paper machines that had been idled, Richey said. The company added 100 employees, bringing the total number of people on its staff to 400.

Since 2012, the U.S. share of the uncoated groundwood paper market has dropped from 60 percent to 36 percent, with Canadians filling the gap as 2,150 jobs were lost in more than 10 American mill closures, Richey said.

“What this trade case is about is leveling the playing field for American producers,” he said.

STOPP has a different stance. The coalition represents printers, publishers, paper suppliers and distributors that employ more than 600,000 workers.

“A decades-long shift toward digital platforms is the reason for financial harm to (uncoated groundwood paper) producers; not unfair prices from Canada,” according to STOPP.

TPC Holdings executives are following what happens closely, Alford said.

“Newsprint prices and the Canadian tariffs are a significant concern, not only for our independent journalism company, but for our neighbors and every newspaper across the country,” Alford said. “We believe in participatory democracy and have shared our views with our representatives in Washington, D.C.”

How much newsprint prices will force changes in the area’s newspapers is not clear, largely because of uncertainty about where the tariff will be set in September.

Typically newsprint is among the largest costs for newspapers, along with expenses such as employee compensation. And the problem has surfaced at a time when newspapers have been facing other issues such as competition with digital media for advertising and difficulties retaining subscribers.

Area newspapers are tightening their belts, trying to decrease spending with as little impact to their readers as possible. The Lewiston Tribune is printing sections such as its monthly Golden Times senior publication in smaller formats.

“We’re not doing anything to sacrifice the depth of our community news report,” Alford said.

Besides charging more for subscriptions, the Idaho County Free Press has reduced the number of pages in its paper and is evaluating more cost-effective ways to produce and distribute its products, Klement said.

“This isn’t life or death for the Idaho County Free Press,” she said. “But it’s not being taken lightly either.”

The Clearwater Tribune in Orofino has taken similar measures, said Publisher Marcie Stanton. “I have just done the basics. What everybody has done. You have to cut down the news content. ... Some stories we can’t cover as in-depth as we’d like to.”

The publisher of the Cottonwood Chronicle considered having his newspaper published elsewhere, but found that Walla Walla was the next closest alternative.

“If there was another place I could go that was cheaper, I would,” Publisher Greg Wherry said.

Wherry is reluctant to raise subscription prices. He did that 1½ years ago and went through the process of losing subscribers then regaining them when they missed their news, he said.

Doing away with paper altogether and going to an entirely online publication has drawbacks as well, Wherry said.

A large share of his readers are people older than 50. They may not have access to computers and high-speed internet. They also might not want to get their news in that format, Wherry said.

“We’d lose a good chunk of our readers.”

Staff reductions are off the table too since he is the only employee, Wherry said.

Ultimately the area’s newspaper executives predict the industry will cope with the changes.

“As long as there is a need for local news, we will be there, finding ways to provide it,” Klement said.

TPC Holdings is diving into new areas to generate revenue, such as selling advertising on a newly purchased video billboard on Thain Road in Lewiston and offering in-house video production, along with direct mail and digital marketing, Alford said.

“It’s this generation’s challenge to evolve and grow our business to underwrite (independent) journalism for tomorrow,” Alford said. “We believe in our future.”

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Williams may be contacted at ewilliam@lmtribune.com or (208) 848-2261.

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