Newspaper editorial cartoons are disappearing when they are most needed.
My own cartoons often used to appear in my local Los Angeles Daily News – not anymore. The Daily News and about a dozen associated, conservative-leaning papers surrounding Los Angeles, eliminated their traditional, daily spot for an editorial cartoon, running only one cartoon in their Sunday editions; these papers now have no editorial page at all on Mondays and Saturdays. Many small newspapers are dropping their editorial pages entirely. Some editors tell me that editorial pages “only make readers angry” and “don’t bring in advertising income.”
The Los Angeles area is now an editorial cartoon desert. The Los Angeles Times, a newspaper with a rich editorial cartooning history, runs only one cartoon per week, on low-circulation Fridays.
A mid-sized, conservative, Pennsylvania newspaper, The Butler Eagle, recently created some buzz in the cartooning community by leaving their regular cartoon spot blank as a protest, because the editor couldn’t find a cartoon that he liked.
We read a lot about editorial cartoonists and other journalists losing staff jobs, but we don’t read much about newspapers dropping editorial cartoons. This plague is accelerating as conservative, timid or budget-strapped newspaper editors are becoming more vocal in pushing back against cartoons.
Liberal leaning newspapers often run two cartoons, from the left and the right. They do the same with columnists, running contrasting conservative and liberal columns. Most conservative editors prefer to print only conservative content. There are about 1,400 daily newspapers in America. The largest circulation newspapers tend to be liberal, but there are very few big city newspapers compared to the much larger number of conservative editors at smaller rural and suburban papers whose readers voted for Trump.
I run a small “syndicate” that distributes dozens of editorial cartoonists and columnists to about half of America’s daily, paid-circulation newspapers. Most of our clients are conservative editors who complain loudly and often that “there are no pro-Trump cartoons.” We’ve been fielding many of these calls from editors in recent days.
We’ve gotten some calls from other media searching for pro-Trump cartoons online, asking us where to find them. One TV news outlet wanted to have a roundtable discussion between pro and anti-Trump cartoonists; they had searched the Web and found cartoons by a few amateur political cartoonists posting “pro-Trump” drawings on social media. In repeated conversations, I explain the difference between professional cartoonists whose work is published by others and amateurs who post on their own social media accounts – but it seems that the distinction between professional and amateur editorial cartoonists has been lost.
Sadly, this is happening as respect for all professional journalists is in decline. Journalists are reviled and belittled by our new president and his supporters. “Fake news” and bloggers are on the rise as readers – and editors, seek to be comforted by views that conform to their preconceived opinions.
Editorial cartooning is a negative art. Supportive cartoons are lousy cartoons. I don’t know of any professional cartoonists who would describe themselves as “pro-Trump,” but I also don’t know cartoonists who would say that they were “pro-Obama,” “pro-Bush” or “pro-Clinton.” A good editorial cartoonist dislikes everybody. We attack whoever is in power.
Editors saw eight years of cartoonists criticizing Obama from both the left and the right. The perception was that a cartoon criticizing Obama must be a conservative cartoon. Now that the flow of anti-Obama cartoons has stopped, many conservative editors see all of the editorial cartoons as suddenly coming from the “liberal, mainstream media.” Their solution? Drop the cartoons.
Sad times for our profession continue.
Visit Daryl’s site at DarylCagle.com.