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.
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.
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.