Debunking the Explanations Given for Lost Jobs

Pett, Joel
December 2004
Nieman Reports;Winter2004, Vol. 58 Issue 4, p32
This article examines the reasons for the lost jobs of editorial cartoonists. The first reason is money. Papers are losing readers and advertising revenue is tougher to come by. The second reason is fear. A good editorial cartoon probably annoys, and might even anger, at least half the audience on any day. Third is laziness. Good cartooning, like all aspects of journalism, takes work. Finding a cartoonist is work. Working with a cartoonist is work. Arguing with a cartoonist about their approach is work. Taking the telephone calls that go along with having a cartoonist is work. Another is ignorance. Thanks in no small part to the editors at Newsweek, an entire generation of journalists has grown into their careers blissfully unaware that editorial cartoons are not just jokes about the news, but visual columns, strong opinion pieces. When relegated to sideshow status, cartoons become basic filler, not the type of stuff you pay someone a full-time salary to produce. Next is the one-paper town. In the old days it was fine to be opinionated and one-sided. But today a lot of editors are uneasy about bludgeoning their readers with the inherently unbalanced work of cartoonists. And last is the might of the right. Although dozens of conservative cartoonists work at papers today, most of the big-circulation names are liberals. In today's political climate, there is a lot of pressure to be fair and balanced, and some of this pressure comes from the publisher's office. None of these explanations for the demise stand up to reason. Yes, papers are losing readers, primarily to television, an easy-to-absorb visual media where opinions fly fast and furious. And while it might make short-term sense to let a cartoonist go, in the long run a newspaper cuts its own throat by making the paper less interesting by robbing it of personality. Sacking the cartoonist also deprives a paper of local cartoons, which can get a community talking about the pages.


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