Times-Picayune lays off cartoonist Steve Kelley

The big story in journalism today was the announcement that the New Orleans Times-Picayune to lay off one third of its newsroom as it transitions to a thrice weekly newspaper. Among those told they will not have a job come October 1 is editorial cartoonist Steve Kelley who will soon complete 10 years at the paper.

A recent Steve Kelley editorial cartoon

Steve says, “my plan is to continue to do good work for the Times-Picayune until the end of September and in the meantime look for another paper. I still believe I have a voice in editorial cartooning where I can weigh in on the important and even unimportant issues of the day.”

He adds that he’ll continue to write his comic strip Dustin (drawn by Jeff Parker) and keep doing editorial cartoons for Creators Syndicate.

Dustin by Steve Kelley and Jeff Parker

One of the reasons he believes he’s optimistic for the future is his knack for connecting with the public through speaking engagements. Steve does stand-up comedy (he’s appeared on The Tonight Show seven times) and has done a lot of speaking engagements in his communities.

“Newspapers need to do a better job connecting their product to their community. Every paper has two or three individuals who can go out and speak at civic events and establish organic connections.” Steve continues, “cartoonists are naturals. We can go out, show our cartoons, get people to laugh and entertain a crowd. When I left San Diego, it was a big deal because I had spent so much time out in the community, a lot of people had a connection to me and the newspaper.”

Steve was expecting today’s announcement and the elimination of his position. He joked with his editor when he was called in, “do I at least get a blindfold and a cigarette?” He says the meeting went well considering and he expressed appreciation for them hiring him 10 years ago when he found himself without a paper.

“I have tremendous respect for them. I’m a conservative. I understand that businesses have to make hard decisions that affect a lot of people. I feel for those here who have been here much longer or don’t have other avenues to pursue,” Steve said.

As stated above, Steve will cross a 10 year milestone with the paper in September – a month before his last day. He looks back and says the two biggest things that stand out are his work covering Hurricane Katrina and the accession of the New Orlean Saints to the Super Bowl. Those events were so big that they spanned years and allowed him to do local work that meant something more to readers.

“Nobody in New Orleans is going to miss another Obama or John Baynor cartoon. But people will miss the cartoons if [former Mayor] Nagin is indicted, or the next congressman, or a judge removed from the bench which has happened a dozen times since I’ve been here,” says Steve. “A local cartoonist is like having a gun on the nightstand. It’s good to know that you have one when at when you need it.”

Here’s an interview he did with Daryl Cagle at the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists convention in Seattle.

17 thoughts on “Times-Picayune lays off cartoonist Steve Kelley

  1. The Times-Picayune is committing public suicide. The organization is on the path to failure. It will be gone in two years. Hopefully, another company will come to New Orleans and fill in the massive hole in that community that is being left by Advance Publications’ incredible blunder.

  2. What a sad development for a great city like New Orleans,which has endured so much adversity. The owners of the Times Picayune should be ashamed of their decision. The local public response has been swift and negative. This should be an indication of how this story will end unless they reverse their current disasterous course of action.

  3. Steve “looks back and says the two biggest things that stand out are his work covering Hurricane Katrina and the accession of the New Orleans Saints to the Super Bowl. Those events…allowed him to do local work that meant something more to readers.”
    Based on conversations I’ve had and interviews I’ve conducted with scores of editorial cartoonists (including Steve) the past five years, I have to wonder if their doing more local cartoons and less national cartoons might not have, in general, helped strengthen their positions as unique and valuable assets. Of course, based on what’s happening to newspapers, it appears editors and publishers aren’t paying attention to what “means more” to readers. Still, it’s not all that surprising that many editorial cartoonists (not necessarily Steve) have helped exacerbate the ongoing situation by predominantly drawing cartoons on the same subjects as their competitors, thereby giving their editors a choice at a lower cost (through syndicates).

  4. Sad to see news like this. Kelley is one of the absolute best in editorial cartooning. I always enjoy his work, such as the cartoon above.

  5. Steve’s a class act along with his cartoons, his community interaction along with that invariable visceral reader connection.

    The TP needs Steve more than he needs the TP.

  6. Steve was spot-on. The T-P is merely hastening its own demise by weaning readers of the newspaper habit. Advance is doing what Katrina couldn’t.

    But while it’s sad to see another top-drawer cartoonist cashiered, it’s also the case that Steve’s an industrious, funny and talented artist. Good things happen when that combination’s at play.

  7. Milt is dead-on with his comment. But the people making decisions about their website’s content are the same people who decided to publish their newspaper three days out of seven and fire their cartoonist.

  8. Aside from Steve being laid off, this is absolutely the wrong course for a newspaper. Three days a week means they will be publishing news that’s two or three days old. Who’s going to read that?
    It’s the utter cluelessness of this move that’s sad.

  9. With the T-P going to a 3-day a week print schedule the T-P needs Steve more now than ever.

    Burning their bridge to the digital future in front of themselves….is not transition, it’s suicide.

    What kind of business manager/owner abdicates their monopoly of a popular reader feature, waters down what remains and then gives that away for free….?

    Right…..an ethically ‘n’ financially bankrupt businessman.

  10. I wonder if the 3 times a week New Orleans Times-Picayune will still carry comics like Garfield, Blondie, and Dustin. Does it still carry Peanuts 1965 reruns and/or For Better or For Worse reruns as well?

  11. While it’s not the Times-Picayune, I checked the Baton Rouge paper and I can verify that yes they still run Peanuts (I can only see the Sunday paper so I can’t verify the Monday-Saturday version), For Better Or For Worse, Garfield and Blondie.

  12. this is a huge loss for times picayune. steve is one of the best cartoonists, and thousands of people enjoyed seeing his work every day. i think its ridiculous that the paper is only going to be on sale for 3 days a week. there should be a digital version and a paper version every day of the week. duh….

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