Thursday, May 17, 2007

Cartoonists sacrificed, readers suffer

Tony Dokoupil in Columbia Journalism Review's blog CJR Daily recounts the observation that dropping editorial cartoonists is "the editorial equivalent of weight-loss through limb removal," but notes that the trend toward dropping staffers in favor of syndicated cartoons continues.

In 50 years, the number of U.S. cartoonists has fallen from 275 to 84. Chris Britt, who spoke at WIU's Journalism Day two years ago, is one of the few staff editorial cartoonists in the Midwest.

"Syndication tends to discourage controversial work and reward vanilla gags," Dokoupil writes.

Commercially, saving a cartoonist's pay and benefits to avoid offending advertisers or to buy syndicated material cheaply may be smart in the short term, but it's not in the long term.

It loses substance that readers want, and it erodes a paper's local identity, like relying on wire service instead of reporters on local streets, or running commentaries from time zones away at the expense of area voices speaking to their neighbors. Great cartoonists like Frank Miller of the Des Moines Register will only be in the past, undeveloped for future generations of readers.

"Also, at a time when the 'fake' news of The Daily Show and the false certainty of 'answer' shows like Lou Dobbs Tonight are ascendant, it's surprising that newspapers aren't expanding their investment in smart cartoons," writes Dokoupil, who recalls the comment from legendary writer adn editor H.L. Mencken, who wrote, "Give me a good cartoonist and I can throw out half the editorial staff."

Read the entire piece here --