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CSotD: $trangling the newspaper

Brewster Rockit being set in the distant future, today’s got a chuckle, granted a mordant, dark, very bad chuckle.

Well, with, as Gary Varvel notes, editorial cartooning in a state of crisis, we could all use a chuckle.

But the people in the newsroom don’t get it, and that’s part of the problem: They’re not business people, and, just as, in movies, most actors do not step behind the camera with the success of a Ron Howard or Penny Marshall, most journalists do what they do, and do it well, without really seeing the little men behind the curtain.

 

As anyone who follows this blog knows, I am a great admirer of Michael de Adder and cite his work frequently.

I probably would have used the one that became so controversial, had I not already run one by David Rowe.

And if I hadn’t seen either of those, I might have used this one by Jeff Stahler.

As Clay Jones notes in a well-reasoned article, it was well done, but not a brilliantly original concept.

However, it went viral and the others didn’t.

Mysteries of the Internet.

It was apparently the straw that broke the camel’s back. Guy Badeaux links to a statement from the president of the Association of Canadian Cartoonists which indicates a troubled relationship between de Adder and the Brunswick News.

The story has been spinning out of control on social media, starting with the fact that de Adder could not have been “fired” because he was not an employee.

I’ve been an employee and I’ve been a freelancer. I’ve been fired and I’ve lost clients. It’s not the same thing.

If nothing else, you don’t get unemployment when you lose a client, nor do you lose your health insurance.

de Adder is taking a hit on his income, but he has other clients and other prospects, and, being Canadian, doesn’t have to sweat the health insurance.

His pride is the main victim here, and I do sympathize, but let’s get it right.

The conglomerate has explained that they were already in talks with Greg Perry, another Canadian cartoonist, to replace de Adder.

 

If so, it’s a helluva way to solve the “Don’t Criticize Trump” issue.

I don’t know what happened in New Brunswick, and why would I?

What I do know is that the newspaper industry has been committing suicide since the very late 80s, when newspapers first began to face the challenge of the Internet.

Back then, a phrase from a 1975 article by Theodore Leavitt in the Harvard Business Review began to make the rounds (pdf here), the critical passage of which is

Unfortunately, this bit of truth had little impact on people who thought they were in the newspaper, not the communication, business, who also failed to pay attention to Peter Drucker, a readable, street-level business guru who demanded that businesses define their actual goal rather than hiding behind bafflegab and spreadsheets.

As another HBR article noted of him:

(H)is insistence on marketing as the essential, ubiquitous task of management attests to a view of business as a process necessarily oriented toward the creation and satisfaction of customers.

You can’t simply blame the decline of newspapers on beancounters, because it’s not impossible to keep track of the beans and still follow the values and practices being taught in top-of-the-line business schools.

Drucker emphasized knowing what business you are in, and much of our current misery — not just in newspapers but throughout our One Percenter economy — is the growth of holding companies, whose business consists entirely of jacking up stock prices.

 

And, like Milo Minderbinder, they’ll take a contract to bomb their own airfield if the money is right.

Under that model, the key to success is knowing when to bail out.

In olden times, an entrepreneur would start up a newspaper (or a pharmacy or a manufacturing company) from passion or practicality, but the goal would be to create a sustainable company to pass on to his children.

Many local newspapers, and other small companies, flourished under one family member after another.

The current model is to pass on to your children not a company but a portfolio.

It may be illegal to play pump-and-dump with individual stocks, but that’s essentially the plan: Build up the stock price and then sell out and get out before anyone notices that the core businesses themselves have been gutted.

 

Meanwhile, as Matt Wuerker has pointed out on Twitter, nobody got fired or cancelled when Mike Ramirez and Henry Payne accused Obama of playing golf in a crisis.

You can attribute that to loving Trump and hating Obama and that may well be an element, but it’s not the cause.

You’d have to have access to their letter files to find out how many people howled over those cartoons, compared to how many complain when Trump is targeted.

The right has learned to weaponize feedback, and, when Breibart or Drudge unleash the hordes, the flood of fury — from readers or from golf partners — makes executives wet their silk boxers.

When the task is to keep the money machine running smoothly, feedback must always be positive, no matter what the public relations department says:

‘I want someone to tell me,’ Lieutenant Scheisskopf beseeched them all prayerfully. ‘If any of it is my fault, I want to be told.’
‘He wants someone to tell him,’ Clevinger said.
‘He wants everyone to keep still, idiot,’ Yossarian answered.
‘Didn’t you hear him?’ Clevinger argued.
‘I heard him,’ Yossarian replied. ‘I heard him say very loudly and very distinctly that he wants every one of us to keep our mouths shut if we know what’s good for us.’
‘I won’t punish you,’ Lieutenant Scheisskopf swore.
‘He says he won’t punish me,’ said Clevinger.
‘He’ll castrate you,’ said Yossarian.
‘I swear I won’t punish you,’ said Lieutenant Scheisskopf. ‘I’ll be grateful to the man who tells me the truth.’
‘He’ll hate you,’ said Yossarian. ‘To his dying day he’ll hate you.’

(Have you written to your local paper to praise a cartoonist?
It would have more impact than you might think.)

Community Comments

#1 Sean Martin
July/1/2019
@ 7:33 am

I have to admit I’m of two minds when it comes to the de Adder cartoon. For one thing, while I applaud its style and black-comedy wit, he never offered it to the Brunswick papers, so to say he was a victim of their politics isnt quite accurate. Granted, the family that owns them is right-wing, but in Canada that doesnt mean quite the same thing as it does down in the US (although, yes, we’re unfortunately getting there by leaps and bounds).

De Adder also knew his contract was running out and that the chain was looking for a replacement. They went with someone who is no more a fan of Trump than de Adder, so — again — it wasnt politics that led to their parting of ways. It could have been personal, it could have been over money, it could have been a dozen things.

But optics are, of course, everything. Somehow I think this might be one of those stories where we’ll never really know the whole truth.

#2 gezorkin
July/1/2019
@ 3:36 pm

I want everyone to tell me the truth, even if it costs him his job. Samuel Goldwyn

#3 Paul Berge
July/1/2019
@ 8:57 pm

I guess what still bothers me about this story is that it sounds as though this one oil company owns all the major newspapers in New Brunswick. Absent that fact, there would be plenty of room for both DeAdder and Perry, to say nothing of a healthy variety of editorial voices elsewhere on their pages.

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