If you haven’t read my Daily Cartoonist partner DD Degg’s report on Gannett’s killing of editorial pages, you really must. It represents a significant blow to editorial cartooning as well as to newspapers in general.
I’m opening with this 2009 Pearls Before Swine (AMS) because it sums up the actual challenge, and, if it’s oversimplifying things, it’s mostly embellishing that current cliché, “Saying the silent part out loud.”
As for it being a rerun, most of what I’m about to say I have said here before, but it needs to be said now, for those who missed it, and again, as a reminder for those who’ve heard it before.
The newspaper is a local utility as much as it is a medium, and what sets it apart is not that it is printed on paper but that it is local.
Or was, until corporations began to take it over. Newspaper chains are as old as newspaper comics, going back to Pulitzer and Hearst, but it is only in recent decades that vulture capitalism began scooping up local papers and turning them from valuable local entities into interchangeable mediocrities.
Even into the 1980s, you still had the old front-office tyro who ran his paper the way he wanted to, putting his personal imprint not only on its pages but the town itself, since the newspaper was the town’s record.
And his wife had a goddam flower show every spring.
I say “goddam” because the paper would run a thick special section about the flower show each year, which all the reporters had to fill with drivel and they hated doing it.
However, it was full of ads and made piles of money to keep the place not just solvent but profitable.
Because that grumpy old tight-fisted publisher was president of the local Rotary Club and on the boards of the Chamber and the United Way and so forth and so on, and so, when good old Bob at the sporting goods shop held his annual fishing derby, he got free ad space in the paper, which he repaid by purchasing an ad in the goddam flower show special edition.
As did every other business in town.
That was then; this is now, and when Wall Street began vacuuming up local papers, they replaced that old curmudgeon with an interchangeable corporate cog, a mirror image of the new-style button-down editor Jack Ohman mocked in 1992.
Lou Grant doesn’t live here anymore, and neither does Mrs. Pynchon.
This highly programmed, highly efficient android can’t arm-twist anyone into buying ads because he will never work his way through the chairs to become Rotary president.
If he makes his numbers, he gets kicked up to a larger paper and if he isn’t making his numbers, he gets kicked to the curb, but, one way or another, he’s not around for more than three to five years.
Not only does nobody in town know him, but nobody recognizes his newspaper anymore, either, because it’s also being programmed and directed and extruded from corporate and is as bland and interchangeable as its management.
I could fill a book with horror stories, but let me just note that, when Gannett launched USA Today, it was derided as the “McPaper,” a colorful lot of piffle that contained no details, no ideas and nearly nothing local.
Since then, that national franchise has become the model for local papers: Lots of graphics, not a lot of content and often pages that are put together miles from where it’s sold, perhaps even in another country.
As for the Internet, sure, it’s a factor, but it’s also a lame excuse.
Craig’s List destroyed the highly profitable classified ads, in part because it could, but it could because Corporate shrugged it off as a passing fad.
And when they did address the Internet, they didn’t get it. I remember endless conversations about posting content online, and the assurances that we didn’t need to charge for it because we’d be paid in clicks. Whatever TF those are.
This being said by people who thought they were hip because they didn’t need to have their secretaries print out their email like the other guys at the table did.
My favorite moment of grotesque stupidity coming when Knight-Ridder decreed that all their online papers must follow an ugly, unnavigable template that didn’t simply make them all look alike but actually required you to dig to find out what the hell city the paper was published in.
I wish I were exaggerating.
And meanwhile, over the years, the command from corporate to not offend has gone from something mocked in 2006 by Prickly City (AMS) to the reality just announced by Gannett.
So now what?
It’s not a death warrant, but it’s certainly more than a hint of things to come.
The art form will carry on. The popularity of memes may rankle professional artists, but it’s also a sign that people genuinely enjoy graphic commentary. And I often hear from people who have followed the links I post with cartoons and made individual artists part of their regular media diet, which is why I started the blog.
But, as newspapers commit slow-motion seppuku to keep the stockswappers happy, cartoonists are going to have to find additional sources of income. That’s just the fact, and it applies to both editorial cartoonists and to comic strippers.
We’ll likely see more cartoonists going to Patreon or setting up their own funding sites, but, even then, we’ll see artists working at Kinkos during the day and scribbling away on their Wacoms at night.
If you care about cartoons, you absolutely cannot justify freeloading.
Here’s a list we compiled a couple of years ago. Comments there are closed, but cartoonists can comment here to add their site or update what we’ve got.
Do a little shopping there: Nobody can afford to support them all, but anybody can afford to favor a few.
You can also buy collections, by searching for your favorite cartoonist or Googling by category, or by browsing in your local bookstore.
But here’s what you can’t do: Nothing.
(And don’t put it off too long, as Samuel Johnson explained.)
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