July 17 was a very long day for us in this business and not just because it was a Tuesday, which are replete with production deadlines for most newspapers.
No, this particular Tuesday was the day the marshaled forces representing newspapers across North America appeared before the International Trade Commission to make the case for it to abandon imposed anti-dumping duties and tariffs on Canadian-imported newsprint.
For all of our members, it is the existential crisis of the moment. And it’s a very dangerous one. The tariffs — still considered preliminary until the ITC rules late this summer — are causing newsprint prices to soar and availability to be sharply curbed.
The hearings before the ITC included a parade of dozens of members of Congress from both parties. These people know how important community newspapers are to the towns and counties they represent. And despite all the howls of “fake news” this and “fake news” that, these people know the threat such tariffs could have on principles as basic as those prescribed in the First Amendment.
The biggest problem publishing newspapers today is public perception. Every newspaper, from the largest metro to the smallest family-owned community weekly, is judged by the actions of all the others.
If a large chain decides to reduce the number of day they publish or the size of their news room both broadcast and social media report it as a sure sign “print is dead.”
But print isn’t dead. Newspapers are simply facing the same challenges impacting most traditional retailers in this time of increased on-line marketing. Both newspaper and shopper publishers are often told they are the buggy-whip manufacturers of the modern age. But those who say such don’t consider that, although the buggy-whip business is long gone, the importance, status and value of a fine horse remains.
For a decade or more, community newspapers, mostly in rural areas, have been the strongest part of the traditional news business. That’s because they are usually the only reliable source of news about their communities. But that doesn’t mean they haven’t suffered as audiences move from print to digital and from news media to social media (or even strategic media, some masquerading as news media). Now community publishers are having to deal with perhaps the greatest collective threat they have ever faced, a newsprint tariff that has raised their printing costs by about 20 percent.
There are efforts in Congress to suspend the tariff on Canadian newsprint and get the International Trade Commission to overturn it. The outcome is unclear. But what has become clear is that there is more worry among rural newspapers than ever before about their future. I’ve heard it in talks with editors, publishers and executives, and have seen it in the papers themselves, as well as other news media. The latest examples I’ve seen are in The Canadian Record, a superb weekly in the Texas Panhandle, and a story in MinnPost, a nonprofit news site based in Minneapolis.
The few pundits who were quick to blame President Donald Trump for the mass murder at a newspaper in Annapolis, Md., last week were way off base.
You can’t blame Trump, the consummate press critic, for the rampage that resulted in five deaths at the Capital Gazette even though the president and some of his followers have labeled the news media as “the enemy of the people.”
No, the Capital Gazette shooting was more about a personal vendetta and today’s gun violence environment than a reflection of a public antipathy toward the press.
Police say Jarrod Ramos targeted the paper because of its coverage of his 2011 conviction for harassing a former classmate.
The 2018 Investigative Reporters and Editors Conference in Orlando was packed with information that could help you take your reporting to the next level.
One of the most informative sessions was called “Public Records Track: 50 Records to Request Now.” Described as a “quick-paced, lightening round-style session,” it was co-led by Todd Wallack, an investigative and data reporter for The Boston Globe’s Spotlight Team. According to his IRE bio, Wallack has been part of teams among the finalists for the Pulitzer Prize four times, including a series exploring Boston’s reputation for racism.
Kelly Hinchcliffe, a reporter at WRAL-TV in Raleigh, North Carolina, also led the session. Hinchcliffe focuses on education reporting using public records and data, according to her IRE bio. She writes a public records column for Poynter, and you can find her on Twitter @RecordsGeek.
Wallack and Hinchcliffe offered the following ideas for public records requests.