EDITORIAL: Preserving office and paper

WHAT’S HAPPENING WITH YOUR BUILDING? That question has come up a lot since late last fall, when pieces of the world headquarters of The Columbia Paper and columbiapaper.com on Route 66, Ghent began to disappear.

Plastic tarps shrouded the work in mystery and then the heavy-duty earth-moving machine showed up and the cement mixer and the dumpsters. What’s happening, indeed.

Want to swim a few laps in our new indoor pool? Care to tour our second-floor shopping mall or visit the planetarium? Sorry. There’s nothing here like that. Instead, what we’ll have when the work is done (and oh, Please, let it be done soon!) is an office space with a floor that won’t jiggle like an inflatable bouncy house.

The building is being saved, quite literally, by its owner, Judy Grunberg. It has a history in the hamlet of Ghent as a barbershop, post office, beauty salon and headquarters of the county Democrats–it’s a good thing the Dems didn’t jump up and down a whole lot. We have a photo of it that dates from 1932 and it was probably built earlier than that, possibly as an outbuilding for one of the railroads that ran on either side of it.

The timing is great. This year marks the bicentennial of the Town of Ghent and Judy’s building is a part of the town’s history. The high water table caused the bottom of the building to rot away and eroded the foundation so that it bulged like plastic wading pool. But she’s undertaken a substantial preservation effort that might extend the lifespan of the building by a century or two.

We’d like to stay in the Ghent building, although there’s no telling how newspapers will change in the next two years, let alone the next two hundred. Adapting to the rapid growth of mobile device audience even here, where internet service is the worst in the state, has been the biggest challenge. But recently a different, unexpected problem has arisen that threatens all newspapers, not just The Columbia Paper.

The threat comes from a tariff proposed by the Trump administration that would affect imports of newsprint, the type of paper you’re holding in your hand if you’re reading this in our print edition. If you read columbiapaper.com, it would affect you too.

One paper manufacturer in Washington state has convinced the federal government that foreign companies are selling paper at artificially low prices and that the government should place a tariff–a tax–on these imports. That would increase the price of newsprint.

For this paper, as for most others, printing is our second highest expense (paying people is the biggest). Where does our newsprint come from? Not China. It comes from Canada, because there are few, if any, companies that make it anymore in the Northeast United States.

Placing tariffs on Canadian paper imports won’t create local or regional jobs because the market for newsprint is too small now to make that business profitable in the U.S. But the added expense of the tariff–proposed at over 20%–could put more U.S. newspapers out of business and their workers out of jobs. Our paper might survive, but not without a substantial increase in our prices, which means you will pay too.

If there were a clear benefit to U.S. workers from imposing a newsprint tariff, the move would be worth considering. But the evidence suggests both workers and news consumers would be the losers. And why beat up on Canada? The U.S. runs a trade surplus with our neighbor to the north.

Using trade policy to drive newspapers like ours out of business would benefit someone: a president who believes that independent news voices are fake news.

It sounds self-serving to ask, but I hope readers will let our elected representatives in Washington know that you want them to oppose any tariffs on Canadian newsprint. Readers should decide the fate of this paper not the whims of Donald Trump.

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