[W]hat is lost when political cartoons are sacrificed completely to avoid conflict?
To be sure, these are challenging times for the publications. Cartoonists and other journalists contacted by The Washington Post paint the picture: Smaller papers generally have thinner staffs and fewer resources, which means they rely largely on relatively inexpensive syndicated cartoons, which are sometimes selected by a single editor. When they choose an inflammatory cartoon, they can especially feel the heat because they are closely tethered to tight communities.
Pandemic fallout has devastated the advertising revenue at already struggling outlets, while the Black Lives Matter protests and sense of cultural reckoning mean newspapers must respond as much as ever with tuned-in sensitivity to their readerships.
Into this environment come pointed cartoons that, because of their visual immediacy, can stir up passions more readily than long editorials.
“It seems like these days, every comic either hates Trump or hates someone else,” [regional publisher of the Morning News in Florence, S.C., Bailey] Dabney tells The Post. “If editorial cartoonists get in the habit of lifting people up instead of tearing people apart, then everyone will want them.”
Mike Peterson, who writes about comics for the Daily Cartoonist blog, is seeing a rise in Dabney’s sentiment.
“I think the idea that there should be a cartoon on the editorial page is well set,” says Peterson, who is the former editor of a small biweekly, the Franklin Journal in Farmington, Maine. “But the idea that you should never [tick] off anybody is gaining ground.”
Jen Sorensen, creator of a weekly political strip, calls the use of cartoons employing racist tropes “editing failures,” urging papers to learn from controversy rather than “eliminate an entire genre that’s still appreciated by many.”
Keith Knight, author of “They Shoot Black People, Don’t They? 20 Years of Police Brutality Cartoons,” says rather than apologize, editors “should stand by” their cartoon selections and, if necessary, “go down with the ship.”