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Clay Bennet interview: “Editorial Cartoons Good for Journalism”

There is a really good interview with Clay Bennett, President of the AAEC, on PJnet. Bennett talks about the recent lay-offs and buy-outs, the journalistic standards of editorial cartoons, blogs vs. editorial cartoons, and his advice for anyone wanting to be an editorial cartoonist.

Certainly the New York Times is a great paper. And it hasn’t had its own editorial cartoonist since the early 1950’s. But that doesn?t mean it couldn?t be a better paper if it had one. The problem is the New York Times doesn’t want to give a platform that powerful to one person. And therein lies the rub.

Newspapers all over this country realize that the editorial cartoon is the most powerful element on an editorial page. And to have one on staff means you?re committed to running his or her cartoons five or six days a week. Good or bad, right or wrong, that space is devoted to one particular cartoonist. When they leave that position open, and run a smorgasbord of cartoons, they get to pick and choose. They can choose what positions they like, they can choose which cartoons they like, and they can control the debate.

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January/10/2009
@ 5:47 am

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#3 Jim Lavery
January/10/2009
@ 4:50 pm

Wow, though this article is 3 years old, Bennett hits it right on the head as to the state of editorial cartoons TODAY.In one short paragraph he makes a compelling point that I haven’t heard or considered before (I’m new here).

Generally the argument is that it’s a financial problem.I think that’s still true, but it’s secondary. I believe what he pointed out is the primary problem.

I wish the complete interview was still available.

#4 Jim Lavery
January/10/2009
@ 10:50 am

Wow, though this article is 3 years old, Bennett hits it right on the head as to the state of editorial cartoons TODAY.In one short paragraph he makes a compelling point that I haven’t heard or considered before (I’m new here).

Generally the argument is that it’s a financial problem.I think that’s still true, but it’s secondary. I believe what he pointed out is the primary problem.

I wish the complete interview was still available.

#5 Wiley Miller
January/10/2009
@ 5:22 pm

“Generally the argument is that itâ??s a financial problem.I think thatâ??s still true, but itâ??s secondary.”

No, it is still first and foremost a financial issue. If you were an editor today faced with having to make budget cuts, would you keep one staff cartoonist, or replace him or her with literally every Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist alive today at a fraction of the salary and benefits being paid to the staffer? Economically, it’s a no-brainer.

The problem isn’t the lack of desire for editorial cartoons, nor for a newspaper to have their own cartoonist. Nor is it syndication, per se. The problem is the abundance of incredibly CHEAP (as in inexpensive) editorial cartoons being made available by staff cartoonists who still have a job in major market newspapers. This is what’s undermining the employment of the rest of the field, as they are being replaced by the cheap work of others. This is why cartoonists need to stop blaming editors and publishers for our woes. Sure, they deserve every bit of criticism we lay out, but we need to look in the mirror as well.

#6 Wiley Miller
January/10/2009
@ 11:22 am

“Generally the argument is that itâ??s a financial problem.I think thatâ??s still true, but itâ??s secondary.”

No, it is still first and foremost a financial issue. If you were an editor today faced with having to make budget cuts, would you keep one staff cartoonist, or replace him or her with literally every Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist alive today at a fraction of the salary and benefits being paid to the staffer? Economically, it’s a no-brainer.

The problem isn’t the lack of desire for editorial cartoons, nor for a newspaper to have their own cartoonist. Nor is it syndication, per se. The problem is the abundance of incredibly CHEAP (as in inexpensive) editorial cartoons being made available by staff cartoonists who still have a job in major market newspapers. This is what’s undermining the employment of the rest of the field, as they are being replaced by the cheap work of others. This is why cartoonists need to stop blaming editors and publishers for our woes. Sure, they deserve every bit of criticism we lay out, but we need to look in the mirror as well.

#7 Tom Wood
January/10/2009
@ 5:58 pm

No, it is still first and foremost a financial issue.

But Clay seems to be making the argument that the content of the cartoons ARE driving the decision making. Some newspapers run Doonesbury on the editorial page, usually with a counterpoint cartoon to bring ‘balance’. It’s that desire for ‘balance’ that prevents them from handing the cartoon slot to a single person.

So they run a smorgasboard of cartoons that over time they can point to and say – ‘We run a balanced mix of opinions.’ Given the close split in the electorate, that’s just good business. That they can get those cartoons cheap is just icing on the cake. So for you print guys, the goal should be to force the syndicates to increase fees.

#8 Tom Wood
January/10/2009
@ 11:58 am

No, it is still first and foremost a financial issue.

But Clay seems to be making the argument that the content of the cartoons ARE driving the decision making. Some newspapers run Doonesbury on the editorial page, usually with a counterpoint cartoon to bring ‘balance’. It’s that desire for ‘balance’ that prevents them from handing the cartoon slot to a single person.

So they run a smorgasboard of cartoons that over time they can point to and say – ‘We run a balanced mix of opinions.’ Given the close split in the electorate, that’s just good business. That they can get those cartoons cheap is just icing on the cake. So for you print guys, the goal should be to force the syndicates to increase fees.

#9 Jim Lavery
January/10/2009
@ 7:24 pm

I hear ya, Wiley, and of course that is what happens. But I think what Bennett was pointing out is something that’s been going on before the massive purges of late. I think what he was saying is that the value of an on staff ed. cartoonist was diminished on an editorial basis–ditching the single cartoonist’s point of view in order to pick and choose a point of view from a pool of syndicated cartoonists–ultimately dictating the opinion presented.

When their intrinsic value is minimized in that way–their original function basically eradicated–they become that much easier to let go, i.e.”hey, it works the NYT (and whoever else)and we can save money on top of it. It’s a win-win!”

#10 Jim Lavery
January/10/2009
@ 1:24 pm

I hear ya, Wiley, and of course that is what happens. But I think what Bennett was pointing out is something that’s been going on before the massive purges of late. I think what he was saying is that the value of an on staff ed. cartoonist was diminished on an editorial basis–ditching the single cartoonist’s point of view in order to pick and choose a point of view from a pool of syndicated cartoonists–ultimately dictating the opinion presented.

When their intrinsic value is minimized in that way–their original function basically eradicated–they become that much easier to let go, i.e.”hey, it works the NYT (and whoever else)and we can save money on top of it. It’s a win-win!”

#11 Wiley Miller
January/10/2009
@ 9:25 pm

Oh, I don’t disagree with anything Clay said. I just disagreed, slightly, with what you said. This purging is nothing new. It’s been gradually building for many, many years and the core, economic problem remains the same.

#12 Wiley Miller
January/10/2009
@ 3:25 pm

Oh, I don’t disagree with anything Clay said. I just disagreed, slightly, with what you said. This purging is nothing new. It’s been gradually building for many, many years and the core, economic problem remains the same.

#13 KRANKY (JOE RANK)
January/10/2009
@ 10:08 pm

Matt Welch, editor of Reason, has some compelling comments about editorial board thought, and the prospect of a newspaper bailout at http://www.reason.com/news/show/130948.html

Good editorial content ( including cartoons ) will always have an audience. Our quest is to find venues that market to that audience…and that pay the rent.
I maintain that the current dynamic of media owned and controlled syndicates are in reality a cartel: enforcing a type of abject and frail employment, or freelance begging.
It will take a few brave “stars” to break from corporate stranglehold, and form an independent professional organisation ( with real teeth, and willing to stick to standards and principles ) before things improve.

#14 KRANKY (JOE RANK)
January/10/2009
@ 4:08 pm

Matt Welch, editor of Reason, has some compelling comments about editorial board thought, and the prospect of a newspaper bailout at http://www.reason.com/news/show/130948.html

Good editorial content ( including cartoons ) will always have an audience. Our quest is to find venues that market to that audience…and that pay the rent.
I maintain that the current dynamic of media owned and controlled syndicates are in reality a cartel: enforcing a type of abject and frail employment, or freelance begging.
It will take a few brave “stars” to break from corporate stranglehold, and form an independent professional organisation ( with real teeth, and willing to stick to standards and principles ) before things improve.

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