Last week came news that L.A. Daily News editorial cartoonist Patrick O’Connor was being let go after 8+ years with the paper. I asked him, as I try to do with all cartoonists exiting their staff job, a few questions about their plans. Here is Patrick’s:
1. Did you have any advance notice?
Last year the Daily News fired 22 people from the newsroom including one of my best friends and its Institutional Memory, letters editor Mike Tetreault. Since then it seems the layoffs have come every month like clockwork. At the same time the company jacked up its health insurance premium to $2,000. Last week I received an email saying the company will not be matching its employees 401k accounts for all of 2009. A lot people found other jobs and jumped ship. Working at the Daily News has been like living with an incompetent, terminally ill relative. I think all of this, coupled with massive layoffs at every other news organization and a constant parade of unemployed editorial cartoonists, would constitute as having “advance notice.”
2. Did they offer any severance/compensation?
The company does offer a severance. It’s supposed to be one week for every year worked but they cap that at six weeks. Could you imagine having worked 20 years or more at a place and on your way out the door they give you six weeks severance? I was horrified when I looked at my check-the government withheld nearly HALF in taxes. That’s something you don’t hear about on the way out.
3. What are your plans now?
Well, I can’t retire for another 35 years so I’m going to have to find something to do. I’ll pick up some freelance work where I can and get to a few projects I’ve been working on. I’ve always been a cartoonist–it’s in my bones. So, that doesn’t change. I’ll always use my talent an ability to get by.
4. How long have you been with the Daily News?
Eight and a half years.
5. Is there anything you’d like to add, or say?
When I was sixteen years old I emailed Wiley Miller telling him I wanted to be and editorial cartoonist and asked for his advice. He replied with a simple answer: “Editorial cartooning is dead.” This early warning, along with many others (Chip Bok: “Don’t get into this for the money.”), would not dissuade me from my passion for the craft of editorial cartooning. All I wanted was to be was a staff political cartoonist and soon enough I was hired at the Daily News and was drawing five cartoons a week. Later, I ran into Wiley at a convention and told him what he had said to me 10 years earlier. “Editorial cartooning is still dead,” he replied.
After all I have witnessed in the last year or so, inside this profession and outside of it, I’m finally ready to admit Wiley was right.