Kansas City Star to lay off Lee Judge

The Kansas City Star announced that is laying off 50 of its employees, one of which is their editorial cartoonist Lee Judge who has been at the paper for 27 years. Lee, who found out yesterday, tells me that he is still processing the news and working through the system of Human Resources and hasn’t even begun to think what his next steps will be after November 21st, his last day. Because of policies regarding freelance work his future relationship with the paper is unclear at the moment, but he harbors no ill will for the paper and management who are responding to the conditions in the industry.

41 thoughts on “Kansas City Star to lay off Lee Judge

  1. Hey, brother Lee, my news beat yours by a day, but you’ll be gone a week before me. This business has gone into its death spiral.

    If you see this, please post your email address… maybe we can compare notes and survival strategies.

  2. The McClatchy Company bought Knight-Ridder two years ago for nearly $5 billion. The company has been seeing low ad revenues but still showed a profit even during this economic crisis. In 2006, newspapers saw profit percentages at three times what oil companies saw.

    I don’t understand why editorial cartoonists haven’t banded together to save their profession. Most firings of editorial cartoonists are unjustified. It’s just corporations that keep cutting costs to raise profits for shareholders. This is a moral dilemma, not a financial one, and it should be fought as such.

  3. “Unjustified” Ted? – The article reads that The Kansas City Star is laying off 50 of its employees, ONE of which is an editorial cartoonist. What about the other 49 people Ted??

    Do you REALLY think this is some sinister evil plot to rid the world of all the editorial cartoonists? Don’t get me wrong – This truly does suck, and I DO feel bad for Lee Judge, But maybe, just maybe it really WAS a financial decision.

    Here in Connecticut, 2 daily newspapers have announced that they’ll close their doors if they can’t find any buyers to take over! What about those people, Ted, Unjustified?

    The Gannett Co., the nation’s largest newspaper publisher, said this December, it will lay off another 10 percent of the work force in its local newspapers division as advertising revenue continues to plummet during the economic downturn.

    Earlier this week DHL announced layoffs of approx. 8,000 people.

    What about it Ted? Is it a moral dilemma, or a financial one?

  4. Advertising revenue has continued to “plummet” for about 20 years. At first the “solution” was JOAs, which led to one paper eventually buying its competitor and subsequently eliminating it. Without competition, the market has become stale. Advertising is also affected by competition and a lack thereof.

    Newspaper profits in 2006 were three times the percentage of oil company profits. The media conglomerates behave differently than independent publishers. They look only at the bottom line; what board members and stockholders want. More Money. Higher Profits.

    What about The News? That’s secondary. Talk to an independent publisher and a suit at Gannett. You’ll hear different stories. Similar issues but different solutions. Look at how independent newspapers like the Tulsa World are handling problems compared to Gannett and Scripps.

    There’s a difference between laying people off because you can’t afford them, and laying people off because you want to keep the stock price up.

  5. The situation is more complex, which means you can be as philosophically opposed to bailing out the auto companies as you like but know that you are talking about your own job, too.

    There was a big wave of newspaper takeovers during and after WWII, which created a lot of hyphenated names for papers. A major reason was that, during the war, production of automobiles and major appliances basically ceased, and that, together with some other financial pinches related to the war effort, wreaked havoc on newspaper advertising, which was already down because radio had become a national medium with which to reach consumers.

    We’re already seeing auto dealerships go dark and more will likely follow. They’re being told they can’t get credit, not for their customers but for their own debt on the inventory they hold, and Detroit isn’t in a position to help them.

    Ted is right — Newspaper chains are making idiotic, self-serving decisions based not on selling newspapers but on selling stock. The people in the front office don’t give a rat’s patootie about newspapers — they could be selling toe nail clippers for all they care about the product itself. And they don’t care about the longevity of the company because it’s just a job and they can get another one after they’ve looted this place.

    But those papers not in chains (heh) are still impacted by the decisions of the Wall Street owned newspapers — lack of advertiser confidence in the medium is part of it and, as papers cut back on pages and even on days published, the cost of newsprint goes up. (Never mind what you learned in high school economics — Supply is not a fixed figure and is being cut to the level of demand, and perhaps a little less.)

    So even the independents are feeling pinched today, and, while Ted would have been right saying all this six or seven years ago (and probably said it and was right then), the situation is changing.

    Still, when they lay off 10% of their reporters and 20% of their preproduction staff and 100% of their cartoonists, the question of priorities and judgment is very much alive and open to debate.

  6. Lee Judge deserved to get fired. He was a little, spiteful, hateful man. He’s going to have a tough time making it in the real world.

  7. I should add that Lee has long been one of my favorite cartoonists. He’s a hard-hitter with a quick wit and an utterly unique style.

    My guess is he’ll do OK.

  8. Oh, great. Another gutless anonymous poster hurling hyperbolic epithets. Thanks for the reminder of the worst aspect of the internet, “Jerimiah”. Now will you kindly go away until you grow up?

  9. This one hits home. Lee is one who has led by example, doing this job the right way. His work is smart, hard-hitting and fueled by a tough local-first attitude.

    When his job is taken, no one’s is safe.

    The freelance world is putting together a top-notch team of mavericks.

    My best to Lee.

  10. When I talked to him yesterday, he said the paper has a policy regarding those taking severance and freelancing, but was unclear on the exact terms of that policy. For now, his future relationship with the paper is an unknown.

  11. Just an FYI, Alan, The Ventura County Star cannot hire me to freelance… as a graphics guy, that is.

    Due to labor laws (at least for California), I was told, it seems one can’t be axed then contracted with piecemeal for the same work. Because my primary job title is Editorial Artist, I DO have the option of freelancing back editorial cartoons to them, which is NOT in my main job title.

    Unfortunately for Lee, Editorial Cartoonist IS his job title. Which I guess means he could freelance graphics to them, were he so inclined.

  12. I just looked at Lee Judge’s work for the first time, and I think he’s terrific. His style and mind are ripe for more than just editorial cartoons.

    I do have a question for all the surviving editorial cartoonists out there. How much of your work is about local topics?

  13. Bill – my local/otherwise split is normally down the middle, depending on the day’s or week’s news. Some weeks, I draw nothing but local and state ‘toons.

    The national election has overwhelmed local events over the past few weeks, so that’s dominated my output (thankfully, Scranton was somewhat prominent in the presidential race).

    I’m now rarin’ to get back to local topics.

  14. This probably sounds painfully naive, but maybe it’s time for editorial cartoonists to explore other avenues besides newspapers. Local TV news might like to add a little unusual content, especially by someone already known in the community. Or maybe local TV or radio online sites. Radio is probably starving for visual content on their web sites. And how cool would it be to be a cartoonist for radio? Of course they would probably pay with concert t-shirts and movie preview tickets.

  15. Bill — 98% of the editorial cartoons I drew were on local topics.
    Though I was making my editors happy and my cartoons were popular with the readers of the newspaper, it didn’t save my job.

    It wasn’t until the newspaper was bought by Lee Enterprises that I started hearing that little tick, tock, tick, tock sound in my head. Lee Enterprises was known for picking off editorial cartoonists at their newspapers.

    I kept my head down as long as I could.

  16. >>>This probably sounds painfully naive, but maybe itâ??s time for editorial cartoonists to explore other avenues besides newspapers.

    I think that is why you’re seeing so many cartoonists try their hand at animated editorial cartoons, Bill.

    I think after Paul Fell got axed by Lee Enterprises, he came up with the idea of faxing his cartoon to subscribers and when on the local radio station and talked about the topic and the cartoon. I thought that was genius.

  17. OOoooh! Stacey…Lee kills newspapers outright. Look at their stock> down from mid-$40’s to under $2/share. Is it any wonder the owners name is Junck?

    ( I felt the same. Was overdue for a raise, but kept quiet and under the radar. They don’t know it, but I made about several years compensation shorting the stock )

    Lee is the typical dumb farmer. Everything devolves into Sports, Obies, Babies, and Weddings. Gossip fence plebianism. Stupidity exulted as a fine art.

    LEE is at $1.48/share today. Under $1, they become delisted on NYSE. A reverse split is not looked upon favorably.
    Perhaps with pending bankruptcy, the local/regional papers will be bought back by decentralized owners? More opportunities?

  18. Heh. One more Lee refugee here. In fact, my current blog entry is on the topic. Sad thing is, when they were a chain of small to mid-sized dailies up the Missouri Valley, they were in an area of competence and doing a pretty nice job. My paper was in the Howard group that was not a bad acquisition, had they stopped their. But the purchase of Pulitzer was pure hubris — especially when they failed to spin off St. Louis, which was a market size well outside their area of expertise. And it was so obvious that they had outgrown their experience level — for instance, they kept having regular conference calls when they had so many papers that it was impossible to have a sane conversation. Jeez, at least when Dean takes you over, he comes in, slashes and burns and is totally up-front about what he’s doing and why. Lee expects you not to notice the blood spatters on the walls and ceiling, just as they expect readers not to notice the shrinking content in the papers.

  19. Bill – Here’s my two cents: Sometimes lampooning “National Government” is always the most tempting, but it’s usually the cartoons of back yard blunders from local government that gets the most response from readers.

  20. Back to what Bill Hinds was talking about…

    I did do a radio cartoon gig in 1993 after the old Lincoln Journal cut me loose. This was in the early days of the Internet, so we faxed a Fell ed. cartoon each week to everyone who requested it. The radio station got paid and I got paid via a sponsor. The whole thing was wildly popular with hundreds of people nationwide on our fax list. There was even an AP story that hit the national wires that resulted in a slew of interviews wanting to know how a guy could be “america’s only radio editorial cartoonist”.This lasted for a year until one day the station manager decided to pull the plug. His rationale was “I like projects that have a beginning and an end.” Brilliant.

    I have tried without success to talk radio stations into running a cartoon (either gag or editorial) on their web sites. Like newspapers, they are cutting staff as fast as they can. As for TV stations, well, journalism and television news are generally two different animals. Local stations used to do hard hitting on-air editorials about topics like “The new city leash law is a good idea and we should all support it”. Wow. Like radio, they are afraid of their own shadows and God forbid that some sponsor or viewer/listener should care enough to call the station and complain about an editorial cartoon.

    Neither television stations nor radio want to spend money… they just want to take it in. Bill’s right about getting paid in movie passes and concert tickets. They all want to talk about trading your product for advertising. I don’t need “exposure”, I need cash.

  21. I’m a friend of Lee Judge’s thru our activity in baseball. He sent me a note about his being laid off after 27 years. I think it suck…not just for Lee but the other 49 employees. Where is the loyalty from the company ? What did management do to help preserve 50 jobs…anyone take a pay cut, reduction of benefits ? Nope…papers are losing money left and right. The Star just built a $200+ million building…how is that going to pay for itself ?

    Crazy world….I used to tease Lee that all he did was draw cartoons ! But it was more than that, he made people think about stuff and we need that in this day !

  22. As a Star reader I will definately miss your depictions of the all the idiots! Good luck Lee

  23. Lee Judge made a lot of people angry; that’s a given with his territory. He made a lot more people think. He put a lot of thought and effort into his work, and in his blog. And he gave back to the community.

    I think it’s sad that a paper in a city this size cannot claim its own editorial cartoonist.

    Best wishes for whatever comes next in your path, Lee.

  24. firing lee judge may prove to be the stars undoing.

    it is said that one shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds them nor should one burn bridges behind them, for one never knows when they might need to retreat.

    judge brought pleasure to many with his cartoons and made many more THINK.

  25. Just found this site and confirmed that Lee was one of the 50 that were laid off. I always looked forward to his art and the tendency that, more than likely, I had to think just a bit before the cartoon made complete sense. He always had just a little extra “undercurrent” there that you had to ponder on for just a second before it all sunk in.

    I’m going to miss his wit with my morning papers.

  26. I thought I would let you ‘toons know that I got word from Lee this morning that he and the Star had reached an agreement to have his cartoons appear in the paper again. Not sure of the details or when they will begin to appear

  27. Lee’s cartoons were sophmoric in style, idiotic in patriotic content, and generally offensive. The Star should have dumped his ass a long, long time ago.

  28. I know this might seems that I am late in commenting, but I’ve save this for the day I learn the Lee had been canned. Since I don’t read the Star, today’s the day.

    Lee’s cartoon following the 911 attach featured a jet liner crashing into a WTC tower. The caption as I remember it read…

    “Now we know why Star Wars would never have worked.”

    The single most important event in his long career and he uses it to take a jab at Ronald Reagan.

    I rest my case.


  30. I wish this article had been true! This schmuck is still spewing his hatred for the American people and their rights. He would do better as a propagandist in Canada or GB.

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