Des Moines Register axes Brian Duffy

I finally have a second source confirming an earlier Editor and Publisher article that mentioned that editorial cartoonist Brian Duffy has been laid off from the Des Moines Register. It’s unclear whether he took a buyout or was let go. The Register has had a strong tradition of editorial cartooning that include two time Pulitzer Prize winner Jay Norwood (“Ding”) Darling. Brian has been with the Register since 1983 and the Register is the only paper that runs the editorial carton on the front page of the newspaper.

27 thoughts on “Des Moines Register axes Brian Duffy

  1. Drats. Duffy is one of the best.

    Editorial cartooning is not dead, but newspapers are on life support. They are dumping their staff cartoonists because they can, and it is the more ethical ones that are now throwing in the towel.

    We know the real enemies: syndication and those among us willing to sell out.
    How about forming a guild?
    I know that the bulk of us are individualist, or half-crazy, or both. The Don Quixote routine is not working so well for many of us lately. I have other wild burro ideas, but that’s just me.

    ( John Cole: You are hilarious! I bet you are as funny at parties as Conrad! )

  2. JP – yes, I would have waited for a second source even if Astor was still there. Why? If you follow the link to their report, it was clear E&P was posting reports from emails from various newsrooms as they came in. It didn’t appear that they were calling every newsroom to confirm the information – it was a “here’s what is being reported to us” kind of story. Secondly, Brian’s announcement was a one line sentence buried deep in the article whereas I would be treating this as a single story with a headline. Thirdly – there wasn’t enough information to cobble together much more than, well, another sentence.

    I tried to get a hold of Brian to get more information, and when that became unsuccessfully – I started looking elsewhere for a source that A. had confirmed the rumor and B. had more information about the lay-off. I’m still not satisfied that we have the full story – I’ll keep digging.

  3. “Editorial cartooning is dead.”
    “We know the real enemies: syndication…”

    These two statements are simply naive and uniformed.

    First of all editorial cartooning is not dead. It’s as popular now is it has ever been as an art form. Readers in print and on the internet love them and appreciate their evolution into full color and even animation.

    What is dead is the relationship between the staff cartoonist and the corporations that own newsprint.

    Secondly, it is incredibly naive and short sighted to think that syndication killed the profession. This assumes that if budget crunching publishers did not have syndicated material as an option to fall back on then they would not get rid of the cartoonist. This notion is absolutely ridiculous. The cartoonist is getting the ax regardless. They would simply fill the space with filler text or write bigger editorials.

    The bottom line is that the people running these organizations have no idea what the public wants. The public has always wanted, and will continue to want powerful graphic commentary and will just migrate to the interent to get it.

  4. Alan: Your insistence on corroboration and second sources is utterly old-fashioned and highly commendable.

    My heart goes out to Brian and his family, if reports are true. Having experienced this fresh … well, you-know-what four years ago, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

    That said, I found this site a little while back. Has anyone had any experience with this organization or any other like it?

  5. Brian, you make some good points, but the present evidence shows that papers are running cheap syndicated stuff if they don’t have a staff cartoonist (and often even if they do).

    Sometimes they use freelancers after getting rid of their staff cartoonist. The media conglomerate fires the cartoonist, knowing the editor can make do somehow.

    If papers quit running editorial cartoons after firing cartoonists, your claim might hold up. But as you said, editorial cartoons are still valued by (most) editors and readers. If they couldn’t get syndicated stuff, they would have to pay a cartoonist money to draw cartoons. The best evidence shows that they would.

  6. Ted:

    Sure they use syndicated material and freelancers. However, my point was that syndication was not the reason that cartoonists were let go. Cartoonists would have been let go whether the editor had “cheap” syndicated material to fill the void or not.

    Imagine for a moment that syndication did not exist. I believe that every cartoonist in the last 10 years that was let go for budget reasons would have been let go regardless if syndicated cartoons existed or not. It makes no difference whatsoever.

    You mean to tell me that if syndication did not exist there is one single case in the last ten years where the publisher would have said ” wait, we can’t let the cartoonist go because we have nothing to take his place.”

    I don’t think so. Publishers would have simply said “write more obits to fill up the space.”

    Editors run syndicated cartoons because they are a low cost option. If it was not an option they would quickly adapt and run something else. The value that you think editors and publishers place on cartoons is terribly overrated. Most feel it is nothing more than filler.

    If every single syndicated editorial cartoonist decided to boycott newspapers in some attempt at a protest, then editors and publishers would quickly adapt and cartoons would disappear from newspapers altogether forever…and the editors and publishers wouldn’t loose one second of sleep over it.

    Afterall, everyone knows that editors and publishers and smarter than the readers!

  7. ‘Publishers would have simply said â??write more obits to fill up the space.â?’

    There have been times when the obit page only had one, short obit that was just enough to mess up the layout because it wouldn’t fill the minimum space under the header. And I have, in those moments, growled to a staffer, “Go out and kill somebody.” So far, they have merely laughed. Perhaps, one day, it will come to that.

    In the meantime, obits don’t do much to break up a page. And we don’t run them on the opinion page, though admittedly we occasionally opine on how sad it is that someone famous is dead. With a picture of the deceased, in “before” mode. However, you can only be that bereft so many times before it becomes numbing for both readers and writer.

    Editorial cartoons on the other hand, make a nice block of visual goodness to break up all that gray text — even a pointless piece that I don’t understand but that only cost me $10. (I’d be paying at least $40 for a locally written column.)

    I notice a lot of cartoons about executives sitting on Santa’s lap asking for bailouts. Imagine being able to get that kind of piercing insight for only $10! What a country!

    (Yes, syndication makes a difference.)

  8. Basic principle of life:
    The less the stated value the more people will take it for granted.

    Syndication is part of the problem. How big a problem is debatable, but it is a problem and an unfixable one at that.

    Given the rise of the internet the syndicate is merely an entrenched middle man. No longer necessary for distribution they are still popular because they act as a filtering service sorting out content and quality and also serve as a promoter. These functions could be replicated by another organization, i.e. guild, but considering the current body of professionals has shown no inclination to do such over the last decade, it ain’t going to happen.

  9. Brian, some of your argument appears to be self-contradictory: “…it is incredibly naive and short sighted to think that syndication killed the profession. This assumes that if budget crunching publishers did not have syndicated material as an option to fall back on then they would not get rid of the cartoonist.” Then later, “Editors run syndicated cartoons because they are a low cost option. If it was not an option they would quickly adapt and run something else.”
    I have been told point-blank by various editors and publishers some variotion of this: “Why should I pay you $XX, when I can get “Thomas Nast” for $10 ?”.
    Sure, it’s economics; but it’s also content. Otherwise, if it was all bottom line; they would run stock photo’s, or museum re-prints ( that cost nothing or minimal ), or MORE ADVERTISING that brings in revenue.

    To answer Rich’s question, our leverage is “content”. The other essential is the resolve to stand up for ourselves and others in our profession, and to stop viewing ourselves as hired guns.

  10. Today, Dec. 4, I was scheduled to lecture on Ding Darling and his editorial cartoons in relation to redefining Herbert Hoover’s role in history. The concluding slide in my presentation was a salute to the Des Moines Register’s commitment to having 102 years of front page political cartoons.I had to do a quick change this morning to my resentation. I simply took in yesterday’s Register and today’s Register and held them up. As an Iowan, as an educator, as a historian, I don’t think it will ever register with “the Register” how much this loss of a legacy impacts its readership…. before I was old enough to read the paper, I always looked/read the front page cartoon….it was a record of our history… Thanks, Brian Duffy, Frank Miller, and Ding Darling.


  12. As an art teacher and a former Iowan I have a lot of respect and admiration for Duffy’s work. It’s a shame it won’t be there anymore.
    I still remember an assignment from seventh grade where we had to give a “report” on a current event. I got permission to do mine as an editorial cartoon, and I studied Duffy’s work to learn how to do it best. It was the frist work I ever got published. Thanks Duffy!

  13. Dear Alan,

    Sorry, wasn’t questioning your due diligence and willingness to followup, but the mere fact that if Dave Astor was still at E&P they wouldn’t have simply cut and paste a bunch of unedited emails and declared it a news story.

  14. That was an interesting video. Expecting loyalty for giving loyalty looks like a “sucker” notion these days.
    I’m glad Brian’s work is still appearing in 400 newspapers.
    Maybe we’ll see the editorial cartoonist position evolve into a totally syndicated business model. Comic strips did start out as features for just one paper or one chain, and evolved to be almost total syndicated.
    Maybe it’s not the death of editorial cartoons, just the death of local issues in cartoons.

  15. It’s encouraging that the local station did a story on this, and good that Brian didn’t get into name-calling, but stood his ground and expressed his anger in a grown-up but unmistakable voice. For the TV station, it’s a chance to thumb their nose at the competition, of course, but it also keeps Gannett from simply doing the deed and slinking away.

    As for not letting him fill a box with his stuff, that’s petty and unprofessional. I hope he submits a good list of everything that was on and around his desk — all the awards, the odd little things people sent that he kept, the personal notes from fans, the $10,000 diamond stickpin that he’ll sue them for if they don’t produce it … there are probably a good number of former Gannett employees who remember seeing it there …

Comments are closed.