Side Note

Cheaper paper won’t fix the news

Earlier this week, Susan Collins, the Republican Senator from Maine, introduced a bill called the “Protecting Rational Incentives in Newsprint Trade Act,” otherwise known as — wait for it — the “PRINT Act”. According to a press release issued by Collins’s office, the bill “would suspend the import taxes on uncoated groundwood paper while the Department of Commerce examines the health of [...] the printing and publishing industry.” The proposed legislation comes in response to Donald Trump’s sweeping tariffs, one of which, one of which has driven up the price of Canadian paper, which many newspapers, especially northern ones, import to print their news on.

The press release quotes Collins as saying that the “new tariffs on uncoated groundwood paper could jeopardize this access to information and impact hundreds of thousands of American jobs in the U.S. newspaper business.” Which, cool I guess? Newspapers — local newspapers — are important, from the scrappy alt-weeklies to even the stodgiest town paper. They tell you what’s going on in your community, and how what’s going on outside your community affects you and the people you know. Perhaps most importantly, by putting the news down on a physical thing, newspapers create a hierarchy of information for the reader, which, while it’s not always perfect, at least gives the reader a jumping-off point for figuring out how much weight they should assign to any given news item. The internet, obviously, does not do this — hoaxes and misinformation can weasel their way through algorithms onto the front page of your social media feed, distoring our perception of what’s important or even the basic facts concerning a given issue.

But also, this bill won’t help newspapers turn a profit — it would just keep them from losing more money than they already are. Collins is proposing a supply-side change, one that would only go so far. Fixing the news industry isn’t just about making paper cheaper, it’s about rehauling entire models of revenue, staffing, distribution, and news consumption, as well as restoring public trust in the institution of media. So by all means, give local newspapers access to cheap Canadian paper, but don’t expect cheap paper to fix a broken system.