Congressman Dr. Raul Ruiz personally hands a letter he wrote supporting efforts of newspapers to fight tariffs to Idyllwild Town Crier Co-publisher/Editor Becky Clark on Tuesday, Aug. 7, before his talk that evening in town. He was not aware of the effort and did not get involved until Clark wrote him of the issue. Photo by Hernan Quintas

In what some contend was an effort to curb “fake news,” President Donald Trump’s Department of Commerce imposed higher tariffs on newsprint imported from Canada. This would raise the cost of paper, thus having a negative effect on the national newspaper industry.

The initial proposal was to raise tariffs on this product 22 percent, but in a lenient moment, the agency decided on 16.88 percent as the exact amount and the new tariffs were imposed in January.

“The tariffs increase the cost of newsprint by as much as 30 to 35 percent, though the impact on publishers is highly uneven, with some chains in better shape and the dwindling independents most at risk,” according to Ken Doctor’s July 20 article for the Neiman Lab, a journalism website.

However, in a surprise, on Aug. 28, the International Trade Commission voted to eliminate the tariffs.

The ITC action came days after local Congressman Dr. Raul Ruiz and a group of bipartisan representatives wrote a letter to the ITC urging it to overturn the decision, which was damaging newspapers, especially small local papers throughout the country.

“Local newspapers bind our communities together, providing critical information on everything from public meetings and emergency preparedness to the major issues residents are concerned about,” said Ruiz in a press release announcing the ITC decision. “I am proud to support local papers and the communities they serve.”

In the letter, members of Congress asked the ITC to intervene. “The International Trade Commission has the power to prevent imposition or reverse these harmful tariffs by making a final negative determination at the conclusion of its investigation into whether imports have caused or threaten to cause material injury.

“Already, this trade remedy has had a negative impact on the market for newsprint, has caused job losses at newspapers across the country and has limited the quality of news available to countless communities,” the members wrote.

In January 2018, the Department of Commerce implemented new tariffs that caused the price of newsprint to jump to its highest level in decades. Small and medium-sized newspapers across the country were forced to cut costs by laying off staff and reducing circulation. Combined with declining readership and revenues, many local newspapers were on the verge of shutting down.

Ruiz’s involvement followed a letter he received from Idyllwild Town Crier Co-publisher/Editor Becky Clark, in which she urged him to find a means to help small local papers.

In a video press release, Ruiz specifically thanked the Town Crier for alerting him to the problem. The video is posted on the TC’s website.