The front-page banner headline Tuesday in my local newspaper spoke volumes: “Daily Republic to go digital on Mondays.”
What does this mean?
It means it’s no longer profitable for the newspaper — The (Mitchell, South Dakota) Daily Republic — to print and hand-deliver daily “hard copies” (paper copies) of the publication to subscribers’ homes.
Why? President Trump.
The lead article in Tuesday’s Republic explained:
“This decision has been made to ensure our own stability and future. Rapid increases in newsprint prices [newspapers are printed on newsprint paper], driven by recent and substantial tariffs, have caused as much as a 30-percent increase in material costs [of printing].”
I purposely italicized the word “tariffs” in the quote above to emphasize the direct link between the president’s recently launched, chest-puffed trade war with America’s main trading partners, including China, Europe and Canada (from whom most U.S. newspapers buy their newsprint, incidentally), and its potentially devastating effect on American business.
Think of my little hometown newspaper as a canary in the coal mine of the current trade war. Its peeps are suddenly quieting.
To deal with the economic impact of the president’s punitive tariffs on the newspaper’s bottom line, the Republic has decided to discontinue printing a paper edition one day a week, on Mondays, and instead only publish a digital edition that day on the internet. This is problematic for the business, I’m sure, because a lot of elderly people living in our area are not tech-savvy or computer-using, and a lot of others are by choice largely unconnected to so-called cyberspace. So, the Republic is certainly anticipating a loss of some subscribers with this already wrenching belt-tightening move.
Thankfully for many readers, the newspaper will continue publishing print editions as it always has on Tuesday through Saturday. But for how long?
In Tuesday’s article, the newspaper also pointed out that the tariff-worsened newsprint price increase has prompted other newspapers across America to similarly cut back, including the iconic New Orleans Times-Picayune, which is now publishing only three days a week, and the Rochester, Minnesota, Post Bulletin, five days.
It’s not just newspapers that are reeling from the trade war’s fallout. Non-media businesses are also losing their balance in communities large and small. The Republic lamented the continuing closures of retail stores in its own town, Mitchell, as the U.S.’s “Main Street” economy sustains direct and indirect hits from tariffs as well as the explosion of commerce on the internet. Farmers in our area are nervously eyeing grain prices as tariffs, particularly against China, destabilize the key markets for their cash crops.
Ironically, as community newspapers wrestle with the looming probability of soon publishing exclusively on internet, the burgeoning online reality is also a key reason for their sagging fortunes. Advertising revenue that for long decades funneled lucratively to newspapers is now scattered to the four winds of the digital universe. I have posted before, here, about the profound and worrisome erosion of America’s newspaper industry.
Handwriting on the wall
So the Republic has read the handwriting on the wall, and heeded it.
“The newspaper must evolve with the new world like many other media companies, and we are making changes that will allow us to provide our readers with the best local information at a monthly cost that remains affordable,” Tuesday’s article explained.
Next Monday, if by habit I walk out to the Republic tube beside my mailbox, the day’s newspaper won’t be there. I will then walk back to my house, grab my iPad and look for my local news instead on the Republic’s website. It’s easy for me but a scary new world for others.
In a sense, this is a sea change. For centuries Americans have read news in newspapers, turning the tactile pages of newsprint by hand. Before long, the practice may actually become a quaint artifact of history.
We have our president’s fragile ego to thank for unnecessarily and punitively speeding up this already rushed and painful process.