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AAEC responds to the recent newspaper job losses

Nick Anderson, President of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists and cartoonist for the Houston Chronicle, has released the following statement regarding the recent number of editorial cartoonist positions being eliminated.

Everyone understands that these are tough times for newspapers, but they have gone from full panic mode to suicide mode. Many editorial cartoonists are part of the online reinvention and renaissance of their newspapers through blogs and animation.

Newspapers that eliminate the editorial cartooning position are being incredibly short-sighted. Research shows that readers are drawn to visual content. Without a staff editorial cartoonist, they are foreclosing on a significant opportunity for building their readership base in the internet age. They shouldn’t be eliminating cartoonists, they should be shining a light on them and harnessing their potential for building a loyal readership and fostering vigorous dialogue.

Community Comments

#1 Wes Rand
August/1/2008
@ 3:30 pm

True, editorial cartoons — locally produced — are one of the few unique things newspapers have. They should display them even more prominently so more readers can enjoy and react to them.

#2 Ted Dawson
August/1/2008
@ 3:56 pm

The most valuable person at a newspaper is the advertising manager.

Unless a person’s job entails directly generating revenue, he is not considered a valuable employee. The flaw in this type of thinking is that an employee’s contribution is not always measurable. We’ve passed the days when Dick Tracy started in a newspaper and it immediately picked up 50,000 new readers. But eliminate the meat, and readers can just go eat the National Enquirer.

An editorial cartoonist has an important and much more difficult job than that of the editorial writers. He has to convey a complex idea that all readers can understand into one visual representation. He is also able to “say” things that a writer often cannot. He can gain a following much stronger than most writers.

Editorial Cartoonists have shot themselves in the butts, though, through syndicating their work. It has had the same effect as clip art on the illustration market. They syndicate for the extra money, which isn’t even that much, but it devalues the work of editorial cartoonists as a whole. Who knows if it’s too late to change that… they’ve known of the issue for a while now.

#3 Rod McKie
August/1/2008
@ 7:03 pm

Yeah, yeah, staff editorial cartoonists of the world unite. There won’t be any backstabbing there!

I’m not being heartless and I hope you’ll forgive me, but we had two major comic publishers over here and one of them closed making a lot, a lot, of cartoonists redundant. Many gave up the occupation they loved. Not long after that all our newspapers, except one, dropped freelance cartoons and again a lot of very good cartoonists webt by the wayside.

Didn’t hear a peep about it from ‘staff editorial’ cartoonists.

So, welcome to the exciting world of freelance cartooning, where we have to get by without a net.

#4 Monty Rohde
August/1/2008
@ 10:02 pm

Words are all fine and dandy, but they never accomplish much. While what Mr. Anderson says may be true, I’ve heard other people express similar thoughts over the last few years. Saying it again won’t do anything. For some reasons newspapers really don’t care about those facts.

Are there any editorial cartoonists planning on taking organized actions to save their hides or are all we going to get is impotent “Black Ink Monday” protest?

#5 Stacy Curtis
August/2/2008
@ 1:41 am

Encouraging newspapers to keep editorial cartoonists around because they animate and blog online seems a little odd to me. Aren’t the blogging and animating editorial cartoonists making subscribers MORE aware that the newspaper content is FREE online? I’d see that as a DISSERVICE.

Encouraging a newspaper editor to have their editorial cartoonist to do more work like blogging and animations without providing them with more pay seems odd to me as well.

I can easily see a newspaper editor reading this letter and saying, “I just had to lay off 500 employees and you’re concerned about the @#%# editorial cartoonist?!?”

It’s time to fix the newspaper industry issues before newspapers completely tank. Once they’re back to making money, maybe (or not) you’ll be able to convince them to fill their empty editorial cartoonist position(s).

#6 Mike Cope
August/2/2008
@ 5:14 am

Ted makes an excellent point in post #2 regarding the syndication of editorial cartoons.

Our local paper usually has 1 day per week when their staff cartoonist doesn’t work. It’s a great paper, and the ed cartoons are printed in full color.

However, 99% of the time, this spot is filled by a stock-house cartoon. As a freelance cartoonist, I can’t even fill my car’s gas tank with the amount that our paper pays for a locally produced and topical ed cartoon, because they can pay less for these “syndicated” ed cartoons that usually have nothing to do with our city.

In some ways, it’s not just the current ed cartoonists feeling the pinch, but those who would one day hope to carry the torch.

#7 Malc McGookin
August/2/2008
@ 7:08 am

Editorial cartoonists are the native frogs in the pond of the newspaper publishing world.

If the industry deteriorates to the extent that less and less frogs survive year after year it should act as a warning signal. There’s something wrong in the ecology/

#8 Rod McKie
August/2/2008
@ 10:03 am

I actually think they are going to be the first to go Malcolm. They are expensive and an obvious target. The gag cartoons are next after them, but they could be replaced with syndicated gag cartoons before then (maybe Kings will start up the New Breed again).

The syndicated strips on the other hand, will still be around. Those are like little cockroaches after the Fall out. It costs so little to each individual paper that the newspapers can keep them on, although the big companies who own stacks of regional titles will play hardball. Plus, during a depression, comic strips cheer people up, well, that’s the theory. I’m pretty sure that good syndicated strips made millions even during the Great Depression.

The industry is being decimated and unless you are syndicating, you will not make a living as a print cartoonist.

#9 Malc McGookin
August/2/2008
@ 4:55 pm

We’re in familiar territory here, i.e. the subject of cartoonists who are already paid as editorialists who then sell on their work to syndicates who then sell it on for a mere few dollars.

This not a criticism of people who make a living exclusively through syndication, it’s the full-timers who are flooding the market with their cast-offs who do the damage.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, why do papers put up with this? If, as an editor, I paid an editorial cartoonist a living wage to draw cartoons for my paper, I would actively prevent them selling their work to other publications for peanuts!

#10 Stacy Curtis
August/4/2008
@ 9:16 am

>>>Malc: Iâ??ve said this before and Iâ??ll say it again, why do papers put up with this? If, as an editor, I paid an editorial cartoonist a living wage to draw cartoons for my paper, I would actively prevent them selling their work to other publications for peanuts!

If one newspaper editor refuses to allow his/her cartoonist to syndicate their cartoons, other newspaper editors may follow suit.

Then how are these newspaper editors going to dump their cartoonists if there are no cheap syndicated cartoons to choose from later?

Unlike editorial cartoonists, at least these newspaper editors have considered the consequences of their actions.

I just can’t understand why editorial cartoonists can’t give up the few pennies they are paid through syndication to save the jobs of their colleagues. Sure, there are a FEW guys out there making a decent paycheck from syndication, but face it, I don’t care how many Pulitzers you’ve won, YOUR JOB IS NOT SAFE as long as there are syndicated cartoons available.

I could name on one hand the names of cartoonists I think have some sort of job security, but everyone else is a sitting duck.

Abandoning the syndication of editorial cartoons is a tricky proposition….because there are a few cartoonists out there who make their living solely from syndication.
And of course, if you’re one of the few staff cartoonists who are making a decent paycheck from syndication, it would be hard to give up that money, especially in these tough times.

And of course there will always be editors out there who would force out their staff cartoonist and do without cartoons altogether.

#11 Malc McGookin
August/4/2008
@ 3:49 pm

There are complications even within this argument.
For instance I know of one very secure (by the standards of the industry) editorial cartoonist who, by anyone’s standards, is garbage.

Yet he signs 3 year roll-on contracts with his paper time after time, and sells the garbage cartoons he draws for that salary on to other papers through a syndicate.

I happen to know that what he picks up from the syndicated aspect is peanuts, so why bother? Greed? Vanity? Laziness? (the syndicate does all the donkey work, after all).

It should not happen. Newspapers should actively prevent their staffers working for other papers. What’s difficult to understand about this?
Staff cartoonists on full time wages with medical and dental, etc, selling on the work they already get paid handsomely for? Presumably with the full approval of their employer?

At the same time other editorial cartoonists are being ruthlessly laid off at an alarming rate. The contrast between the two attitudes is bizarre and difficult to explain.

I COULD explain it if the cartoonist concerned was an Oliphant or Telnaes. A newspaper paying those guys a salary might consider themselves lucky and agree to a deal where they could sell on their work.

However, I’m not talking about a crtoonist of that stature, I’m talking about a mediocrity who is paid full time whilst the Oliphants of the world make a living from syndication.

#12 Malc McGookin
August/4/2008
@ 8:52 pm

My point being that there seems to be a huge difference in the perception of cartoonists and cartooning depending on which newspaper or group you work for.
Some are content to keep them on staff contracts, paying full benefits, whilst others pay a pittance to part-timers and drop them without a second thought.

The actual skill level of the cartoonists themselves seems to be merely incidental.

My view is that there are too few genuinely skilled and talented editorial commentators around. This leads to the mediocre talents having no competition (and thus no threat to their tenure) and others getting the push because publishers view them as expensive irrelevances.

Papers should always have a dual supply policy as standard, and even accept regular submissions from three or four editorial cartoonists, to encourage the development of new talent, and to keep the incumbent on his/her toes.

#13 Rod McKie
August/5/2008
@ 10:18 am

Ah but, Malcolm, your first scenario is right because your second scenario will never happen.

Your second scenario presupposes that the most important skill of the editorial cartoonist is being a good or astute political commentator. That is only desired by the papers you have highlighted who are interested in adding to their paper in an enlightened way. Many papers just want someone who can ‘draw okay’ and who will work on 3 subjects the editor suggests every day. Thinking for themselves is not desired.

For a long time now newspapers have employed what can only really be described as ’embedded editorial cartoonists’. That is to say they are cartoonists who will hold the paper’s editorial line on everything. If the paper hates Obama, so does the cartoonist, if the paper links 9/11 with Iraq, so does the cartoonist. If the newspaper wants to puff-up the Olympics and say nothing about China’s human rights record, then the embedded cartoonists keep quite.

Someone remind me again why I should worry about these people.

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