Jackson County Newspaper Falls Victim To Trump Tariffs

Aug 17, 2018

The shuttered office of the The Jackson County Times-Journal sits in a small strip mall next to the Jackson County WIC and Save-A-Lot.

A white piece of paper behind a glass front door declares "Closed," while a look through the front windows reveals a mostly empty space: a cabinet with a purple handwritten “Sold” sign, a pink fleece jacket on the ground, a few books piled up in the corner.

The Times-Journal had reported and published the news in Jackson County since 1847. But as the Trump administration's tariffs work their way into Ohio industries, this tri-weekly local newspaper has become the latest victim of higher printing prices and lower revenue.

Last month, the publisher folded it into the nearby Vinton Courier, which now calls itself the Vinton Jackson Courier.

Beloved, But Unimpressive

Rita Howell, who lives right around the corner from the paper’s former offices, is setting up for a yard sale.

“Well, I think it’s very, very sad when such a large newspaper as the Times-Journal is closing. It’s the changing times, you know,” Howell says, folding kids’ clothing. “It’s people going to the internet and to YouTube to get their news, which is not always accurate.”

She says the paper's loss is unfortunate, but times change.

“I’ve been through VCR Tapes, cassette tapes, don’t even sell CDs hardly anymore,” Howell says. “Everything changes. Technology just changes. So it looks like the papers are on their way out to me.”

For lifelong resident Bobbie Kerr, the paper’s closure represents a larger demise of the city.

“So we’re losing more in this county and nothing coming back,” Kerr says, shaking her head. “Unless something opens up and someone opens their eyes, we’re not gonna have nothing here. Nothing at all. And it breaks my heart.”

The Vinton Jackson Courier will now combine operations of the Jackson County Times-Journal with the Vinton Courier.
Credit Adora Namigadde / WOSU

Unlike Howell, Kerr was an avid reader of the Times-Journal.

“Like when Walmart caught on fire one time, you had Times-Journal spokesman Jeremiah Shaver who was out there reporting it live,” Kerr says. “And not having that, you know, you don’t know.”

The Times-Journal may be gone, but editors with Adams Publishing Group say coverage will remain the same under the banner of the Vinton Jackson Courier.

"This publication now serves the identical readership as both earlier newspapers did before," the company said in an emailed statement. "APG is committed to publishing a vibrant, sizable newspaper serving both readers and advertising clients in these two counties.”

APG denied requests for an interview.

Trouble From Tariffs

According to the National Newspaper Association, tariffs are hitting newspapers around the country. The Trump administration recently imposed a 17 percent tariff on Canadian newsprint (down from a proposed 22 percent), adding in some cases millions of dollars to the cost of producing a newspaper.

While it might not be a death knell for the industry, it's been enough to force cuts at many papers already near the tipping point of financial collapse. 

A May survey of 250 newspapers in Illinois shows that almost half of newspapers reduced their page count and almost a third haven’t filled open positions in response to tariffs. The Tampa Bay Times cut 50 jobs in April, and back in Columbus, The Dispatch has doubled newsstand prices from last year.

APG is making changes at other papers around Ohio, too. The company recently stopped publishing a Saturday edition of the Athens Messenger.

“APG Media of Ohio operates several local newspapers in Southeast Ohio, along with a lifestyle magazine and countless other community and commercial printing projects," the company said. "The changing media landscape, along with rising costs due to newsprint tariffs, has forced APG to make decisions to sustain local news coverage and serve the communities of our region."

Ron Colley says he was a regular reader of the Jackson County Times-Journal. Though he wishes it printed more news, he says it was the best the community had.
Credit Adora Namigadde / WOSU

Not all Jackson residents are sad to see The Times-Journal go. Jim Fisher, who's lived in Jackson all his life, says the paper didn’t cover enough.

Fisher says he wanted to see "a lot more of just general, like store closings and things like that, you know what I mean. I didn’t see a lot of that in it. Just didn’t seem real interesting."

Ohio News Media Association president Dennis R. Hetzel says the Jackson area will still be covered, thanks to the Courier and The Telegram, which also covers Jackson and Vinton counties. The association says the tariffs have not created any news deserts in Ohio, but they're strategizing with local papers to protect the industry.

Ron Colley says the town paper didn’t always print enough news, but it was the best the community had.

“We read it a lot. We had it for years. As a matter of fact, I bought both papers,” Colley says. “And for a while I even bought the Columbus Dispatch.”