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Editorial cartoonists push back on NYT

Jim Romenesko has the details on a small WTF by editorial cartoonists after the The New York Times offered to run an original editorial cartoon in the Sunday The Week in Review starting February 26. At issue is the Times’ offer to pay $250 to the selected cartoonist, but requires all entrants to submit original, finished work with only a hope that their cartoon is selected.

According to Romenesko Ted Rall penned the response that was signed by most of the cartoonists approached.

The current proposal has the effect of putting scores of cartoonists to work every week. But only one will have a (small) chance to be published. Like an old-fashioned “shape up” of longshoremen, this is demoralizing and will likely lead to a diminished number and quality of submissions over time. This works neither for we cartoonists nor for The Times. We suggest that you either commission cartoonists whose work you like directly, or return to the previous approach of running syndicated material which do not require additional work on the part of editorial cartoonists who are struggling mightily in the current economic environment.

Furthermore, the proposed payment is extremely low given the low chances of publication, the requirement that an artist clear his or her Friday schedule, and-most of all-the huge circulation of The New York Times, the largest newspaper in the United States. The market standard for a reprint for a newspaper of your size is $250-not for original content. An original cartoon for The Times should pay closer to $1500 to $2000. And the rate should be even higher if you maintain the New Yorker-style submission policy, to which many cartoonists have long objected and boycotted.

CLARIFICATION: I’ve received an email from a reader who informs me that the response penned by Ted, quoted above, is not an official response by the AAEC or by editorial cartoonists en mass. Apologies to anyone who interpreted as such.

Community Comments

#1 Milt Priggee
February/7/2012
@ 6:29 pm

Why should a newspaper hire it’s own STAFF editorial cartoonist….?

It would stop them from inventing weird, insulting and embarrassing schemes to get exclusive graphic commentary.

When your competition employs a Pulitzer winning print AND a Pulitzer winning digital editorial cartoonist….it’s very strange to showcase whatever’s left that you can snag….once a week.

You can’t fix stupid.

#2 Keith Brown
February/7/2012
@ 6:51 pm

Why dont newspapers find advertisers to that will specifically sponsor an editorial toon. Lot’s of eyes go to the toons and subsequently the sponsors name will be spcifically seen as well.
I would be more than happy to have a sponosred toon and would be more than happy to say “this toon sposored by”. Radio and TV have sponsored editorial and even off color material every day.

#3 Brian Fairrington
February/7/2012
@ 9:00 pm

FYI- The Illustrators Guild clearly regards spec work as an unethical practice. Why are ed cartoons any different?

#4 Mike Peterson
February/8/2012
@ 5:14 am

At the risk of dragging this slightly off-topic — Do illustrators today refuse on ethical grounds to participate in creating spec work for the purpose, say, of helping an ad agency land an advertising account?

And I’d point out that freelance cartoonists create “spec work” all the time, which they then send to various magazines. The NYTimes situation is different because of the timely nature of editorial cartoons and the Time’s insistence on exclusivity — those factors combine to put it well beyond the Pale, in my mind.

But to ban spec work entirely? Come on. Seems you’d have to be pretty far up the ladder of success before you could make that stick. Am I wrong?

#5 Steve Artley
February/8/2012
@ 10:54 am

Illustrators will, on occasion work with an ad agency to nab an account through speculation. It’s showing the potential client concepts and capabilities and is in effect a form of promotion or advertising serving to solicit paying work. Once the account is landed, the agency and the illustrator get paid from then on.

This is pretty different. They are asking to submit original finished art on spec every week. No “landing” an account here. Must jump through the hoops every time, along with every other hungry cartoonist.

It’s an insult to even ask. Try asking a prostitute for a free sample, understanding that she/he will not do the same thing with anyone else, and you will pay her/him only if you reach the bliss you were seeking… and do that every time with several dozen other prostitutes.

#6 Tom Richmond
February/9/2012
@ 3:12 pm

Mike- It’s been my experience that most ad agencies PAY artists to do comps, illustrations or storyboard work for “pitches” to clients. The rate they offer is often less than art for a full-blown campaign, but they don’t usually ask an illustrator for spec work as part of pitch.

Spec work is a big red flag, IMHO. It usually shows the inexperience of the client, which almost always translates into an unsuccessful project an therefore zero pay.

I often get approached by authors looking for an illustrator for their book, generally self-projected to sell better than Harry Potter, and asked to do a cover and dozen or so illustrations on spec with the promise of a big royalty on the back end. Funny those books are usually of the one or two sentence per page variety and full bleed, spread illustrations. I quote a very reasonable up front fee and either a small royalty or waive the royalty altogether. Two things are universal about all those jobs: 1. They never pay me upfront and I don’t do the project. 2. I never hear about said book again or see them listed in any Best Sellers list.

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