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PALMER: Newsprint supply is tightening, and you are affected

The paper (newsprint) used to print The Selma Times-Journal you hold in your hands cost 10 percent more than it did just a few weeks ago – and is likely to cost as much as 40 percent more in coming months, newspaper industry experts predict.

In what sounds like a farfetched scenario, tightening American newsprint supplies could threaten newspapers’ ability to print at all, the same experts say.

Forces beyond the control of The Selma Times-Journal are to blame, but our response will be noticeable to you, our readers:

Fewer pages. For the past several years, our smallest weekday edition has published on Saturday and Monday with 10 pages. If newsprint prices continue to escalate, and availability of paper harder to come by, page counts could be reduced, or worse case, publication days in print eliminated.

Higher subscription prices. For the past decade, we’ve charged $15.50 a month [60 cents a day] for home delivery of our newspaper. We may have to charge more.

Less non-local content. We will work harder than ever to provide news about Selma and Dallas County that you cannot find elsewhere. As we further maximize local news content, state and national news and features from outside this community will be edited for length.

More online news. Our news staff routinely produces more local news and photographs than will fit in our print edition. Increasingly, we will rely on our website, where we have unlimited space, to publish excess news.

Why is newsprint becoming more expensive and scarcer? Two reasons: one long in the making, the other recent.

Because of the struggles of big-city newspapers, newsprint consumption in America has decreased 75 percent over the past two decades. As demand dropped, many American newsprint mills closed or converted to making other paper products.

Newsprint mills in neighboring Canada filled supply gaps as domestic production capacity dwindled. The result was market equilibrium and stable newsprint prices for much of the past decade – until last summer, when a small, hedge fund-owned newsprint mill in faraway Washington State caused a market jolt that no one saw coming.

North Pacific Paper Co., or NORPAC, complained to the U.S. Department of Commerce and the International Trade Commission that Canadian producers were violating trade laws by receiving government loan assistance and harvesting trees on government land – advantages that allowed them to sell paper in the United States cheaper than American mills could. No other American paper manufacturers have complained.

Pending results of an investigation that is ongoing, preliminary duties against Canadian producers of 7 percent to 10 percent began in January, followed by an additional 22 percent in March. Major newsprint makers, most of whom have mills in both countries, have announced major price increases in response.

The Selma Times-Journal is printed almost entirely on paper made in Grenada, Mississippi. Community newspapers like ours represent a sliver of newspaper demand. Despite still-healthy print readership, we alone cannot create enough demand to stimulate the U.S. newsprint market and bring shuttered mills back to life. Yet our need for newsprint to fulfill our obligation to readers is as enduring as that of the Washington Post or New York Times.

How can you help? If you are so inclined, call Representative Terri Sewell or Senators Richard Shelby and Doug Jones and ask them to take a stand for community newspapers. You or I cannot express an opinion to the Department of Commerce or International Trade Commission, but senators and representatives can.

We are also in the early stages of developing an e-edition of our newspaper. An e-edition is a digital replica of our daily print edition that can be read on a desktop computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone. It is a digital replica of our print edition, includes all stories, photos, and advertising. It will be available several hours before the printed newspaper is delivered to your home.

In a worst case of newsprint becoming so scarce that we cannot print a newspaper, the e-edition is our backstop for uninterrupted publication of local news for Selma and Dallas County.

We are working hard with other community newspapers and industry partners to prevent that from happening.