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Greenberg: Staff cartoonists jobs dropped 34% in 30 months

Responding the job losses of Matt Davies, Marshall Ramsey and Drew Sheneman Steve Greenberg writes:.

If these AAEC numbers are right, then that?s a loss of 35 positions, or more than a 34 percent drop in 30 months. Polar ice caps aren?t disappearing as quickly.

All of the full-time cartoonist positions in Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi, North Dakota and South Dakota have gone since May 2008, while there is only a single position left in Alabama, Colorado, Connecticut, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas (!!), Wisconsin and Washington (and the last one is for a chain; there are no full-time cartoonist positions on that state?s newspapers).

Please note than the nation is still crawling with editorial cartoonists, with some 300 or so AAEC members, with more diversity than ever. We?re now mostly freelancers drawing for web sites and syndicates and alt-weeklies and niche publications, scraping by and doing a multitude of other jobs, from teaching to children?s books to web design. But those with full-time staff editorial cartooning jobs ? the former normal situation ? have dwindled by probably half to two-thirds in a generation.

Community Comments

#1 Charles Brubaker
December/2/2010
@ 3:25 pm

Needless to say this makes the animation industry, which has its own problems, look more lucrative by comparison.

#2 Brian Fairrington
December/2/2010
@ 5:55 pm

Editorial cartoons are alive and well and some form of them will be around for the rest of recorded human history. What is dying is the marriage between the staff cartoonist and newsprint organizations.

#3 Dave Stephens
December/2/2010
@ 6:50 pm

Nah, what’s dying is the marriage of $$ to formerly employed cartoonists…

And the animation industry is a GIANT – cartoonists are a pimple, relatively speaking…

#4 Joe Rank ( KRANKY )
December/2/2010
@ 11:16 pm

WOW ! Just imagine how many positions would have disappeared if the AAEC weren’t so diligent in the promotion and protection of the profession.

#5 JP Trostle
December/3/2010
@ 1:50 am

WOW, Joe, what did the AAEC ever do to you, run over your grandmother or something?

Of course, maybe if you’d ever bothered to join and find out first hand, you would have a better grasp of what you’re talking about.

Let us know if that ever happens; in the meantime, we’ll keep trying to prove that negative for you

#6 Henry Clausner
December/3/2010
@ 8:39 am

..gotta diversify to make a living….doors close and doors open.
Just gotta watch your fingers…

#7 Ted Rall
December/3/2010
@ 5:09 pm

I agree that the AAEC could have done and can do more–a lot more–to promote and preserve jobs and income for editorial cartoonists. Our presidents should be reaching out to editors and publishers to explain the value of a political cartoonist. Similarly, we need to promote good news–yet we rarely do so. It is astonishing that the AAEC did nothing to trumpet the hiring of Scott Stantis at the Chicago Tribune. The ship is sinking, but the captain remains asleep below deck.

#8 Joe Rank ( KRANKY )
December/3/2010
@ 9:52 pm

Ted…NO disrespect intended towards you. I know you did your damndest, and had opposition from some within the community.
Wish there were more like you, Mauldin, Bill Sanders, and other can-kickers.

Maybe we need to go International ?
“American” is becoming ( or is de facto ) a metaphor for “blind stupid”.

#9 Ted Rall
December/4/2010
@ 11:58 am

Thanks, Joe. I wish I disagreed, but…

Nothing will change until people get angry and energized.

#10 rick stromoski
December/4/2010
@ 12:42 pm

I’m curious..what specifically could the AAEC do to preserve staff cartoonists jobs at newspapers?

#11 Eddie Pittman
December/5/2010
@ 12:00 am

Rick, they could have stopped Al Gore from inventing the internet!

#12 Joe Rank ( KRANKY )
December/5/2010
@ 3:32 am

Eddie…could the AAEC have prevented you from entering STUPIDVILLE ?

I call a STRAWMAN ARGUMENT.

LIBERALS could KILL conservatives in the womb.
Then this would all be academic.

#13 Eddie Pittman
December/5/2010
@ 3:47 am

Hi, I’m Eddie and I live in Stupidville.

#14 Tom Richmond
December/5/2010
@ 8:52 pm

Wow… a cartoonist with no sense of humor. That’s a little like a chef with no taste buds.

#15 Eddie Pittman
December/6/2010
@ 3:26 am

No, really Tom, I live in Stupidville. But there’s free wi-fi!

#16 Ted Rall
December/6/2010
@ 6:34 am

It just looks like free wifi. But when you go to connect, you get an error message.

@Rick: The AAEC could, and can sell the value of editorial cartooning–especially staff editorial cartooning–to editors at newspapers and web magazines. Among the ideas that have been floated around for years, but hardly if at all acted upon, include:

1. Engaging a respected polling organization to ask newspaper readers whether they read, enjoy and value editorial cartoons. We know from inside information that newspaper readers routinely rank political cartoons highly among the features they care about. We could make this public. It would cost at least $25,000?but that should be achievable with smart internal fundraising.

2. The AAEC should send a representative to every major editors convention to schmooze and present panel discussions and talks about the profession.

3. AAEC officers should be active participants in the national dialogue on all major issues. If a hack like Arianna Huffington can be all over cable news to discuss every little issue, why not us? We need a publicist to make this happen.

By far the biggest enemy we have is ignorance. Few editors or publishers understand what makes a good editorial cartoon, why they matter, or what value they bring to their product. They literally know nothing about the field–something we see when they sit on prize committees. That’s OUR fault. It’s our duty to get out there and sell ourselves, not merely as individuals, but collectively.

#17 JP Trostle
December/6/2010
@ 11:45 am

> By far the biggest enemy we have is ignorance. Few editors or publishers understand what makes a good editorial cartoon, why they matter, or what value they bring to their product.

Actually, Ted, you know all too well the biggest enemy we have the Media itself. That they are ignorant (and lazy) simply compounds the problem.

Here’s but one example of, even if we did all you suggested, our own “people” in the business would undercut us: When we were promoting the snot out of “Attack of the Political Cartoonists” in 2004, and the Democratic National Convention was in Boston, and there were at least 5 “name” cartoonists covering the convention in person, I helped line up all of them to go on one of the national radio shows on NPR for an hour-long show.

The day before the convention, the producer sheepishly called me back to say they had killed the interviews, because someone at the edit meeting pointed out “they had already done a segment earlier in the year on cartooning.”

#18 Milt Priggee
December/6/2010
@ 1:08 pm

ignorance or editors…same difference.

#19 Ted Rall
December/6/2010
@ 1:30 pm

I hear you, J.P., but that’s why you hire a PR flack. They don’t take no for an answer, and they’re even more accustomed to rejection than we are.

#20 rick stromoski
December/6/2010
@ 1:52 pm

So the aaec polls readers and they overwhelmingly say they like Editorial cartoons. You hire a publicist to promote editorial cartooning on tv and radio. Cartoonists are asked to give their opinions on issues on shows like Bill Moyer, Fox news, and MSNBC.

I’m just not sure how this will compel newspaper editors to hire staff cartoonists once again at $100K a year plus benefits when they can get the same cartoons for $25 a pop through syndication.

#21 Mark_Tatulli
December/6/2010
@ 2:37 pm

And while we’re at it, let’s convince those editors how important the comics are to readers and maybe they’ll stop running polls and stop cutting comics and stop buying comics being offered at low, low rates!

Yeah, c’mon, everyone! Let’s educate the editors! Who’s with me?! Let’s do it!!Yeahhhhhhh!!!

(MARK runs from the room, like BLUTTO in “Animal House,” expecting all to follow. Nobody does.)

#22 Pete Murphey
December/6/2010
@ 3:12 pm

Don’t worry Rick, once Ted gets his plan in gear, EVERYONE will be making 100k per year, the editors, the owners,
the cleaning service, the interns AND the syndicated cartoonists.

#23 PhilWohlrab
December/6/2010
@ 4:01 pm

Pete.. you left out their pension free healthcare and retirement age of 50.. basic necessities ..how could you forget?

#24 JP Trostle
December/6/2010
@ 10:41 pm

Well Ted, the producer was rather chagrined and thought it a dumb decision ? she was on our side, so that should count for something, right? Oh wait, an ignorant managing editor was in charge, never mind.

A PR flake could change that how?

#25 Ted Rall
December/7/2010
@ 7:08 am

JP,
Obviously there are other shows and other stations. Who are we, Obama? We have to TRY.
Rick,
They’re not the same cartoons. That’s the point. A staff cartoonist produces local cartoons. You can’t get them from a syndicate–and they make a big impact, especially when the cartoonist serves as an ambassador to the community, visiting schools, etc.

#26 Milt Priggee
December/7/2010
@ 11:16 am

Face it people…staff cartoonist is a DEAD profession. It’s way past DEAD……. it’s extinct…we’re just seeing the decaying of the last few positions that are remaining.

It was a good run but Pulitzer winners can no longer hold onto their jobs. They are wondering just like the recent college grads how they are going to survive in this new journalistic world. Some will and some won’t.

A cartoonist paid survey is the STUPIDEST thing I’ve ever heard of…..why??….because newspapers have already spent thousands of their own dollars on Belden surveys that show the reader popularity of a local staff editorial cartoonist.

If they don’t believe what their own surveys tell them… I seriously doubt they’ll see the light with a survey paid for by cartoonists.

$100K with benefits…????….$50K with benefits….??….less than $50K….? No matter what the amount- employing a local “trouble maker” is not worth it to the people who run a newspaper. It doesn’t matter to newspapers what readers want, like or enjoy.

A staff cartoonist is seen as a trouble maker because what was once a cartoonists job description is now cause for dismissal. Time is money and the more time a cartoonist causes his employers to have to deal with the fallout of the latest editorial cartoon the more likely the position of staff cartoonist will be eliminated.

A lot of print newspaper people despise cartoons and comic strips…they feel that they are headaches that are hitting them squarely in their pocket book. They are jealous of the power of a little picture that completely over-shadows their finely crafted prose. (This is one of the major reasons why the NY Times hasn’t employed a staff cartoonist for over half a century and probably never will)

A survey or poll is their justification to get rid of something they just don’t what to have to deal with anymore.

The reasons a syndicated editorial cartoon is favored over a staffer is because with syndication the editor is GUARANTEED not to have to worry about ANY fallout from any First Amendment editorializing of local issues. The editor doesn’t have to kill, reject or edit …he/she just gets to pick out whatever safely tickles their funny bone. With syndication THEY have the control, the power ….to choose whatever their preferences…..and yes at the cost of pennies.

Speaking of pennies- that is how print cartooning started. Artists would have their drawings (usually of the royals) reproduced by themselves and the artist took whatever he could carry to the nearest street corner to sell to whoever….for pennies. We’ve now arrived where we started.

The art of personal graphic commentary will live on forever but the debate about how those artists support themselves is now between individual, package, self-syndicated or pay per use.

This may sound depressing to some but the reality is it’s just one aspect of the devolution of our print media.

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent but the one most responsive to change.-Charles Darwin

#27 Steve Greenberg
December/7/2010
@ 11:47 am

Milt’s comments are harsh, but unfortunately way too much on the mark. He’s accurately laid out the realities for much of the newspaper world.

There are still specific editors and newspapers that believe in and value editorial cartooning and strong local commentary, so there may always be SOME staff positions… but those will be the exception to the rule.

#28 Mike Peterson
December/8/2010
@ 4:52 am

Ted’s right: “A staff cartoonist produces local cartoons. You can?t get them from a syndicate?and they make a big impact, especially when the cartoonist serves as an ambassador to the community, visiting schools, etc.”

Unfortunately, Milt’s also right: “It doesn?t matter to newspapers what readers want, like or enjoy.”

At most newspapers, you’ve got a decentralized mess with decisionmakers who don’t understand each other’s positions or professions. Start at the top: The publisher used to be the owner or at least close to the owner. The publisher was not just a Rotarian but a lynchpin in the organization, also a key officer in several similar groups and a sponsor of this-and-that within the community. Yes, he would annoy the editor by insisting on coverage of the annual flower show — but the influential people who volunteered for the flower show LOVED him, and they really loved the funny drawings about the flower show and that the cartoonist would come do caricatures for a few hours. And they all bought lots of ads because the newspaper was part of their community and everyone got paid and everyone was happy.

And then he retired and sold the paper to Newspapers-R-Us Inc., headquartered in a city thousands of miles away.

Today, the publisher is a cog who reports to HQ, a larger collection of clogs. He comes to town and is installed in a brief ceremony in the break room, followed by cake and punch. He’s heard there is this flower show every year, but depends on the editor and sales manager to figure that out. They’re delighted not to have to deal with the damn flower show anymore, though the sales manager does hit up the other sponsors to see what he can get out of it. The new publisher goes to Rotary when he can, but never rises to any offices because he’s not there long enough — if he’s good, he gets promoted. If he’s bad, he gets fired. Either way, he’s gone within five years at the longest.

And the newspaper isn’t part of the community anymore and people don’t feel compelled to support it anymore. Besides, they’ve all sold out to Stores-R-Us, Inc., which also has no sense of how the community works and is just as good at rotating cogs through the managerial chairs, and prefers to advertise its brand on national television.

#29 Paul Fell
December/8/2010
@ 9:41 am

My friend Milt is SO right. Mike P’s right, too, and I’d like to add one more thing that I’ve said many times before.

Newspapers are no longer run by NEWSPAPERMEN. Those were the guys who had come up through the ranks as copy boys, reporters, and editors before actually getting to run a paper. Now the people in charge are more than likely to have a background in sales, advertising, or marketing. To me, that’s like asking an auto mechanic to be chief of surgery at a major hospital.

Not surprisingly, you can certainly see the results.

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