58 editorial cartoonists protest NYT submission policy

As mentioned Tuesday, The New York Times sent out an email to editorial cartoonists announcing The Times was going to start running original editorial cartoons in their Sunday Review. The announcement landed like a rock once cartoonists read submission policy that required them to send finished spec work in every week for a small chance the cartoon would be picked. The “lucky” cartoonist would be compensated $250, the rest… “try again next week.”

Ted Rall wrote an open letter response (see below) which has now been adopted and signed by 57 other cartoonists which include six Pulitzer Prize winners.

Ms. Aviva Michaelov
Art Direction, Graphic and Web Design
The Sunday Review
New York Times
620 Eighth Avenue
New York NY 10018

Dear Aviva:

While we appreciate and applaud your move to add more cartoons to the Sunday Review, we are concerned about your announced submission (no pun intended) policy and payment.

The current proposal has the effect of putting scores of cartoonists to work every week. But only one will have a (small) chance to be published. Like an old-fashioned ?shape up? of longshoremen, this is demoralizing and will likely lead to a diminished number and quality of submissions over time. This works neither for the cartoonists nor for The Times. We suggest that you either commission cartoonists whose work you like directly, or return to the previous approach of running syndicated material which do not require additional work on the part of editorial cartoonists who are struggling mightily in the current economic environment.

Furthermore, the proposed payment is extremely low given the low chances of publication, the requirement that an artist clear his or her Friday schedule, and?most of all?the huge circulation of The New York Times, the largest newspaper in the United States. Although The New York Times in the past has paid only $50 for a reprint of syndicated cartoons, the market standard for a reprint for a newspaper of your size is $250. You are offering this $250 now for original content. An original cartoon for The Times should pay closer to $1500 to $2000. And the rate should be even higher if you maintain the New Yorker-style submission policy, to which many cartoonists have long objected and boycotted.

It is not necessary to reinvent the wheel here. There are long-established norms for submission and payment for cartoons in the newspaper industry that have functioned well and would work well for you going forward. We hope you will consider them.

Signed February 9, 2012 by the following cartoonists:

Kirk Anderson
Nick Anderson, Houston Chronicle*
Robert Ariail, Herald-Journal (Spartanburg, SC)
Steve Artley
John Auchter, MLive Media Group
Pat Bagley, Salt Lake City Tribune
Richard Bartholomew, Artizans Syndicate
Nate Beeler, The Washington Examiner
Charles Beyl, Sunday News (Lancaster, PA)
John Branch, North America Syndicate
Steve Breen, San Diego Union-Tribune*
Daryl Cagle, msnbc.com
Tim Campbell, Current Publishing
Cameron Cardow (CAM), Ottawa Citizen
J.D. Crowe, Mobile (AL) Press-Register
Matt Davies, Tribune Media Services*
John Deering, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
Brian Duffy, King Features Syndicate
Tim Eagan, Deep Cover
Bob Englehart, Hartford Courant
Paul Fell
David Fitzsimmons, Arizona Daily Star
Garrincha, El Nuevo Herald
Bob Gorrell, Creators Syndicate
Phil Hands, Wisconsin State Journal
Roger Harvell
Joe Heller, Green Bay (WI) Press-Gazette
Jack Higgins, Chicago Sun-Times
Keith Knight, The K Chronicles/The Knight Life
Jeff Koterba, Omaha World-Herald
Jay Lamm, The Franklin Times
Chan Lowe, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Jimmy Margulies, The Record (NJ)
R.J. Matson, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Rick McKee, Augusta Chronicle (GA)
Stephanie McMillan, Universal Press Syndicate
Mike Keefe, Denver Post*
Angelo Lopez, Philippines Today
Jim Morin, Miami Herald
Jack Ohman, The Oregonian
Jeff Parker, Florida Today
Joel Pett, Lexington Herald-Leader*
Mike Peters, Dayton Daily News*
Milt Priggee
Ted Rall, Universal Press Syndicate
Rob Rogers, Pittburgh Post-Gazette
V. C. Rogers, The Independent Weekly (Durham, NC)
Marshall Ramsey, Jackson (MS) Clarion-Ledger
Jen Sorensen, Slowpoke
Scott Stantis, Chicago Tribune
Ed Stein
Tom Stiglich, Journal-Register Newspapers
Dana Summers, Orlando Sentinel
Dan Wasserman, Boston Globe
Signe Wilkinson, Philadelphia Daily News*
Karl Wimer, Denver Business Journal
Matt Wuerker, The Politico
Adam Zyglis, Buffalo News

*Asterisk indicates winner of the Pulitzer Prize in editorial cartooning

19 thoughts on “58 editorial cartoonists protest NYT submission policy

  1. I am a bit torn. I’ve been ‘self-syndicated’ for the last 8 years, creating my toons and sending them out ‘on spec’, trying to make a couple of dollars to help pay bills. I aspire to reach the heights that these impressive inkslingers signed above, have already scaled. I certainly would NOT want to offend anyone or cut my own chances of one day becoming syndicated by submitting some of my own toons. However, the folks to whom I pay said bills….don’t really care where their money comes from or how I made it. I see this as just another opportunity to maybe find a little more cash for my family. If this is ‘prostituting’ myself….all I can say is…I’ve done much worse for pay to take care of my family.

  2. Even when I was just starting out in 1989, I made sure to get paid – I knew that doing work for low pay was DIFFERENT than doing work for 10 cents on the dollar of what the going rate was…

    It is a sliding scale with basic respect from low to high – 10 cents on the dollar is OFF that scale, for me.

    I always valued my work and I always knew that if I worked for people who also valued my work, word of mouth would continue that respect. Working for people who do NOT value my work goes against the concept of respect and leads to more work from the same kind of people who have no appreciation.

    There is a similar conversation going on right now in the International Society of Caricature Artists (ISCA) – an agent was providing recurring corporate gigs to professional caricature artists and was paying the prevailing wages – another agent (who had never hired caricature artists before) stole the client and all the recurring work and is now hiring artists at 25 cents on the dollar, a wage similar to wages paid to event caricaturists in the 1960’s.

    I consider the behavior unethical, though not illegal, and very much like a plumber charging 2012 rates to the client and paying his plumbers 1965 wages and profiting IMMENSELY – plumbers would simply say, “No way!” and the guy would be out of business. But artists who know nothing of the prevailing wages are common and easily found and easily exploited…

  3. Dave, while I agree with much of what you’ve said, I can’t get totally on board with you. As I said, I’ve been a struggling self-syndicated inkslinger for 8 years. I set out some 8 years ago to get a single cartoon published as a means to honor my dad’s memory. When one of my editor pals (who has since become one of my very good friends and mentors) suggested I give editorial tooning a try, things opened up fairly quickly. I was able to offer a unique angle in that I created toons with a ‘local’ more appealing tilt. I was in direct competition in some cases with these same syndicate cartoonist of which you speak. I offered my toons at a ‘reduced rate’ to get my foot in the door. I also figured I’d incorporate the ‘Wal-Mart principle’ by charging a small price and working for a lot of papers instead of charging a premium to just a few. That worked fine for some time….til the syndicates fell on hard times. You may not believe this but, I’ve actually had syndicates GIVE the editorial toons away for FREE in order to keep the business with some of my papers. I had one prospective new editor who called the syndicate rep and told them he was gonna drop all columns, toons, etc. and use me. When the rep heard this, he slashed the price of the columns and threw the toons in for free. The poor editor, had no choice but to tell me he couldn’t use me. He couldn’t justify spending money on something he could get for free. I don’t do free. I don’t get paid much….but a little bit of something is better than a whole lotta nothing. So you see Dave, it’s not the ‘desperate inkslingers’ of the world who are making it tough for everybody else. In some cases, it’s the sole same syndicates that claim to represent these cartoonists who are doing us ALL a giant disservice.
    I’ve never been paid $250 for a cartoon in my LIFE! I wasn’t invited to participate in this party. A LOT of the folks listed in this who’s-who are some of my all-time cartooning heroes. I wouldn’t purposely TRY to offend a single one of them in any way. However….if the invitation is extended my way…..I’m gonna jump all over it like a duck on a junebug! As I said…the folks I pay my bills to every month don’t care where the money comes from as long as I have it to give them.

  4. While it is true that gag cartoonists have been doing spec work for years there is a fundamental difference here. A good gag is funny but not necessarily specific. Gag cartoons can be created now and be reprinted years down the road. There are in effect “evergreen.”

    Editorial cartoons on the other hand are specific and timely. They often have a shelf life in the current 24 hour news cycle of a week or less. If an editor al cartoonist creates a cartoon and it doesn’t run they have little opportunity to run it some place else because it generally becomes outdated. There are exceptions but in most cases if a editorial cartoonist created a cartoon to run in the NY Times and it did not get picked then that’s the better part of a day wasted. If they create a gag cartoon then they can shop it around for years to come.

  5. Mike, it’s not the ink slingers or the syndicates.
    It’s the idiot editors who say to the readers I don’t care enough about you, our community or my own newspaper business to pay for a local cartoon that addresses issues that are the most important to all the above.
    It is the publisher/editor’s total short sightedness of what a newspaper is and how it fits into it’s market.
    Publishers and editors have been shooting holes in the bottom of the boat to let the water out.

  6. The select few 80 cartoonists who were queried by The New York Times to provide an original cartoon in a competitive atmosphere for a flat fee on spec of $250.00 have responded in mutual outrage and find the proposal to be personally insulting. The most equitable solution for the New York Times would be to open the competition to freelance cartoonists, who unlike the chosen 80 cartoonists, do not enjoy a permanent staff position at a daily newspaper or the luxury of having their previously published cartoons regurgitated through syndication. This would free the aggrieved top cartoonists to persue the $2000.00 per cartoon opportunties which they’ve alluded to, and give freelancers a chance to further their careers. It’s a win, win proposition in my humble opinion and freelancers would relish the opportunity to be able to compete for publication in a major news outlet, regardless of the odds. There is no shortage of cartooning quality out there. It’s all about access and connections. I say “Open the floodgates and let the best cartoon win!”

  7. There is nothing new here with respect to the concept. Spec work has been around since before Gutenberg. Rumor has it Pope Julius II had ten artists paint the Sistine Chapel before giving the gig to Micheangelo. Young artists and those trying to break into the business have always been doing spec work or accepting low pay to get started. The alarming difference here is that clients like the New York Times are supposed to be way above those practices, and are supposed to be the level of clients those just-starting-out cartoonists aspire to get to with their early work. Additionally, the cartoonists being contacted long graduated from that kind of thing. It’s a scary thing for the cartooning industry that high-profile clients like the NYT are resorting to practices that are more in line with the Sticksville Weekly Press.

  8. It’s like having 80 plumbers spend a 4 or 5 hours fixing/installing pipes and when all of their labors are done, examining the work of each and then ONLY PAYING ONE.

    Which means 79 plumbers wasted at least 350 hours of highly skilled labor… On a gamble. And the winner receives a vastly LOWER wage than usual… LOL!

  9. It’s actually quite simple. 1) Always get paid if you are a professional. 2) If you don’t want to do spec work, don’t do spec work. IMO, the New York Times could really give a flip about what the cartooning industry thinks of their policy. Professional cartoonists should not submit work under these terms. Others who would like to try and compete to get a drawing in the NYT, feel free to give it a whirl. It’s an open source world today, so just chalk it up to experience. What experience is yet to be determined.

  10. I’m not a cartoonist, but I do know a little about freelance work. To the commenters who are responding that they’re happy for this kind of work, I ask what kind of income and quality of life are you looking for? If it takes a day to create a cartoon to submit for (the chance of receiving) $250, and you do this 5 days a week for 50 weeks a year, what kind of income are you looking at, after taxes, expenses, rent, food, medical expenses, clothes for the kids, gas & car, etc.? Time to take a hard look at your career path.

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