Freedom of Speech and the Editorial Cartoon

Marlette, Doug
December 2004
Nieman Reports;Winter2004, Vol. 58 Issue 4, p21
This article discusses the significance of the editorial cartoons in the U.S. Cartoonists have been declining--down from almost 200 in the 1980s to fewer than 90 in 2004. The poisonous fumes laying us low are the byproduct of the corporate culture that has engulfed newspapering during the past two decades. It is a bottom-line cult of efficiency that threatens not just the profession but the integrity of journalism and hence the unruly spirit of democracy. That is old news, and all heard reasons for the disappearance of the editorial cartoon. Circulation is down and budgets are tight. Newsprint costs soar. Editors forced to cut budgets look around and find the expendable employee, or the person least like them: the guy or gal who just draws pictures. Newspapers have survived challenges for 200 years, from the rise of the telegraph to radio and television and now 24/7 cable news programming. That is because the newspaper's indispensable function has been to shape its community's very identity through the distinctive voices and personalities on its pages. Cartoons are the most accessible window into the character of the paper and its town. Yet more and more publishers are convincing themselves that they do not need a local pen or brush representing them on the editorial page. Instead of having an artist who will continue to shape and reflect the soul of their community, they get by cherry-picking canned cartoons from syndicates.


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