Crystal Miller: Newsprint supply tightening; you are affected

Published 8:20 pm Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Display Type, by Crystal Miller

The paper (newsprint) used to print the Albert Lea Tribune 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.

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Forces beyond the control of the Albert Lea Tribune — and thousands of community newspapers like us across America — are to blame, but our response will be noticeable to you, our readers:

• Fewer pages. For the past several years, our smallest weekday edition has been eight to 10 pages. On light advertising days, we will now have six to eight pages.

• Higher subscription prices. For the past decade, we’ve charged $10.75 a month for home delivery of our newspaper in town. We may have to charge more.

• Less non-local content. We will work harder than ever to provide news about Albert Lea, Freeborn County and the surrounding area that you cannot find elsewhere. As we further maximize local news content, Associated Press news and features from outside this community will be reduced in length but stay close in story count via use as news briefs.

• More online news. Our news staff routinely produces more local news and photographs than will fit in our print edition. Increasingly, we will rely on our website, where we have unlimited space, to publish excess news.

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 75 percent 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.

For the record, the Albert Lea Tribune is printed almost entirely on paper made in Canada. 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 Amy Klobuchar, Tina Smith, Tim Walz, Dan Sparks and Peggy Bennett 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.

Also, give our e-edition a try if you’re not already using it. An e-edition is a digital replica of our daily print edition that can be read on a desktop computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone.

If you are an Albert Lea Tribune subscriber, you get access to the e-edition for $1 per month. We even email a link to every subscriber when the edition is ready each day at 7 a.m. Simply click and read. It’s available several hours before the printed newspaper arrives in your mailbox.

Crystal Miller is the publisher of the Albert Lea Tribune.