ELKTON — Cecil Whig readers will be reading the last Monday print edition in their hands today, but the newspaper will be launching a local sports recap e-edition on Mondays in coming weeks.
David Fike, president of the Whig’s parent company, Adams Publishing Group Media of Chesapeake, announced the cut down to two printed Whig editions — now Wednesday and Friday — in a July 6 editorial, citing a massive increase in newsprint costs due to tariffs approved by the Trump administration.
“Unfortunately, since the fourth quarter of 2017, we have locally experienced significant increased costs, up nearly 30 percent, related to this imported newsprint. At current pricing, these tariffs will add nearly $500,000 annually in added expense to our business. Newsprint represents the second largest expense item behind employees for our business, resulting in significant decreases to our bottom-line,” he wrote.
The U.S. Commerce Department approved the first of two preliminary tariffs in January after it received a complaint from a single Washington state paper mill, North Pacific Paper Co. (NORPAC), in 2017. That mill is one of only five remaining American newsprint mills, in part because demand for newsprint, also known as uncoated groundwood paper, has dropped by 75 percent nationwide since 2000.
Only after NORPAC was purchased in 2016 by One Rock Capital Partners, a New York-based private equity firm, did it petition the government for tariffs, claiming Canadian newsprint suppliers have an unfair advantage due to governmental subsidies.
With temporary tariffs approved, the Commerce Department now has to decide whether to make them permanent, and a decision is expected as early as this week. If approved, it could still be defeated by a three-vote majority of the four-member U.S. International Trade Commission, an independent federal agency, at a scheduled Aug. 28 hearing. A 2-2 tie would uphold the tariffs.
Fike joined with dozens of other newspaper executives in personally lobbying more than 60 senators in Washington, D.C., last month, asking them to voice their opposition of the tariffs and their devastating impact on the American newspaper industry. Just this week, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters that he personally lobbied U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to allow the temporary tariffs to expire.
“Ross seemed sympathetic, but you never know what’s going on,” Schumer said, according to the Post-Standard in Syracuse, N.Y. “We can nip it in the bud if Commerce says they’re not going to have it. I’m going to do everything I can to stop this counter-productive, job-killing tariff.”
On Friday, U.S. Rep. Andy Harris (R-1st District) told the Whig that he "hopes that when the Commerce Department finalizes its decision on Canadian newsprint tariffs next month, they take into account the detrimental effect those tariffs have on our smaller local newspapers."
Harris added that he "hopes the president is willing to consider dropping all tariffs and trade barriers if Canada drop theirs — as he has suggested to the European Union recently. That would end any newsprint tariffs.”
In the meantime, APG Media has taken many steps to decrease back office expenses that are not so visible to the public, Fike said in his announcement.
“These steps helped, but unfortunately did not result in the cost savings needed to offset these substantial tariff expenses. We recognized that additional difficult decisions with our business model were needed,” he said, announcing the cut of the Monday edition.
Meanwhile, the new sports e-edition, which will be available on the Whig’s website, CecilDaily.com, will recap local sports and feature award-winning photography throughout the high school, collegiate and youth sports seasons. It will also continue to feature locally written coverage of the Baltimore Ravens and Orioles, and Aberdeen IronBirds, among other coverage.
The Whig is not alone in feeling the effects of the tariff increases. Its sister paper, The Star Democrat in Easton, is also cutting its Monday edition, leaving five printed editions.
Nationwide, other papers, large and small, are choosing to shed print editions, citing the impact of the tariff hike. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pennsylvania’s second largest newspaper by circulation, recently announced plans to drop two of its daily printed editions in August.
The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, the largest daily newspaper in western Colorado, is cutting its Monday and Tuesday print editions out of its currently daily circulation starting in August.
Sierra Nevada Media Group is cutting the Carson City, N.V.,-based Nevada Appeal’s publishing schedule from six days a week to two, while slashing several editions out of three other papers as well.
Other newspapers have decided to make other changes to contend with the tariff hike. The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio’s third largest newspaper, recently decided to double its newsstand rates and increase its subscription rates by a third, citing the tariffs as the reason.
Meanwhile, Paul Tash, chairman and CEO of Florida’s largest newspaper, the Tampa Bay Times, wrote in a recent editorial that the tariffs would add $3.5 million per year to his paper’s newsprint expenses if they are made permanent.
Despite the undesirable necessity of having to cut a printed edition to contend with rising costs, Fike noted that the Whig remains committed to covering Cecil County, publishing online 24/7 and working to develop new digital products to bridge the print gap.
“Our ties to this community have been with numerous generations for well over 175 years, and this is not something we take lightly. We have been there to chronicle each of your lives and the community we love,” he wrote. “While this tariff increase on newsprint has forced us to make this difficult transition in our history, it will not change our commitment to this community. We have been, and will be, committed to be the voice of this community.”