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Other Opinion: Another blow to newspapers, journalism, democracy

Here in Northeastern Minnesota, in response to other nations' illegal steel dumping, we can appreciate tariffs and other moves from the federal government that help us maintain our global competitiveness.

Here in Northeastern Minnesota, in response to other nations' illegal steel dumping, we can appreciate tariffs and other moves from the federal government that help us maintain our global competitiveness.

But when it comes to the tariffs on Canadian newsprint announced last month by the U.S. Department of Commerce, we can do little more than shake our heads. These tariffs promise to be as business-cripplingly high as 32 percent on some newsprint, the paper used to make newspapers.

What Commerce officials don't seem to understand - or choose to ignore - is that rather than being unfairly subsidized, Canadian newsprint often is just the best option for newspaper-printing businesses here in the U.S. The presses often go with the nearest suppliers. In northern Minnesota and elsewhere, that means suppliers from Canada - a nation already doing $13.1 billion in trade every year with our state.

Canada is, by far, our nation's No. 1 trading partner, and the U.S.-Canada trading relationship long has been one of respect and mutual benefit. A punitive move like this one threatens that. It is puzzlingly out of character.

It's particularly puzzling because it came about as the result of a single complaint. A paper company in the state of Washington owned by a New York-based hedge fund cited the loss of more than 2,000 jobs since 2012.

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But those job losses weren't from any Canadian subsidy; they can be blamed instead on print advertising revenue losses due to the rising popularity of the Internet and the falling demand for newsprint as a result, as a coalition called Stop Tariffs on Printers & Publishers, or STOPP, has been trying to explain to anyone who'll listen.

The tariffs on Canadian newsprint, STOPP said, threaten far more jobs than those lamented by a Washington paper company. More than 600,000 jobs in the newspaper industry and in industries that supply newspapers are suddenly now at risk.

And perhaps that's precisely what the administration of President Donald Trump wants. The president's disdain for journalism, especially responsible journalism, has been as prominent as his cries of "fake news," no matter how thin so many such claims of his have been.

While Trump may celebrate fewer voices to report about and to challenge what he and others in government want to be doing, Americans can be concerned. Fewer journalists means fewer watchdogs for the people. A weakened newspaper industry is a threat to our very democracy.

"Newspapers remain vital civic assets - nobody else will report on your community with the depth and breadth of a newspaper - but publishing them is not an easy business, and these tariffs will make it even harder," Paul C. Tash, chairman and CEO of the Times Publishing Company in Tampa Bay, Fla., wrote in a column last month. "This is a kick in the teeth."

A kick our leaders in D.C. can block, though. The Constitution gives Congress the power to regulate foreign trade. It can do more than shake its head in bewilderment at these misguided, devastating tariffs. It can override the Trump administration here.

Our very democracy may depend on it.

-- Duluth News Tribune

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