Blog Syndicate

Journalism and Cartooning Professions Race to the Bottom

Take a look at my editorial cartoonist/journalist daughter Susie’s project at Stanford about the future of journalism.

I think that as journalists (and cartoonists) work as freelancers for lower and lower fees, the respect and quality of the working relationships we have with our clients also declines – as Susie writes, a race to the bottom for our professions and ultimately for the quality of our work, and the quality of the media.

From Susie:

What is your journalism challenge? What problem are you working to solve?

Like every industry, journalism has a labor problem. As media companies have grappled with digital disruption, they’ve responded by cutting jobs and salaries, but not necessarily cutting “content.” That work has instead been assigned to a growing legion of freelancers and contractors — independent work that has always existed, but that has taken on a more vital role to the survival of many cash-strapped media institutions, both new and legacy.

With so many opportunities yet so few resources, freelancers are by nature pitted against one another in a race to the bottom. This doesn’t work particularly well for anyone: for editors, who need a consistent and high-quality pool of writing, staffers, who risk being undercut at their jobs, or readers, who want to support living wages for workers.

This is not to say that freelance journalism can’t work! But it can’t work like this.

How would solving this problem help journalism?

While the Internet has done much to lower the entry barrier to media work — which is great — it’s also lowered the standards of that work — which is not great. Many freelancers report that they receive little to no editing or fact-checking. In a race to pump out more “content,” this has the potential to result in huge errors — and to promote a different kinds of journalism altogether.

In an industry that prides itself on transparency and ethics, there are no standards as to how these workers or their work should be treated. Living wages and ethical work standards are in everyone’s best interest.

Who is tackling a similar problem and how is your approach different?

There are many efforts aimed at supporting independent workers across industries. Projects specific to journalism — such as ContentlyBeacon and WordRates — have largely centered on gig-matching, which has its own strengths, but does not address many of the issues facing freelancers.

A single tool or platform can’t fix such a complex problem. I believe organizing of freelancers is best done in small cooperative affinity guilds, where problems such as lack of administrative and legal assistance, libel insurance, press passes, and tools, and service fees can be better solved. The first step toward this vision is promoting more transparency and cooperation in a field that’s traditionally very individualistic and competitive. I plan to negotiate with writers, editors, and publishers to find common ground on these issues. I’m also talking to creators of digital payment and publishing tools about how those might better work for independent journalists.

What are the first questions you plan to pursue?

  • Is this employment shift in media to more contracts and fewer jobs actually indicative of and part of a larger shift in work across industries? If so, what does that mean for freelance journalists, and how might we work in solidarity with freelancers in other industries?
  • Who are the freelance journalists working in the U.S. today? Where are they, how are they working, and for how much?
  • In what ways does contract journalism work and not work for editors and publishers? How do they perceive freelancers? Who do they think we are, and how do they think we work?

What are the first steps you plan to take in working on your challenge?

I’m interviewing freelancers, editors and publishers about these labor issues and will be publishing some of that work on Patreon for my subscribers. Those funds will support some of my more ambitious plans for this project. The first batch will go toward making Who Pays Writers, a project of Manjula Martin and Scratch Magazine, into a searchable database.

Who Pays is an unmatched resource for freelancers — users submit not just rates, but also information about how long payment took, the terms of their contracts, and any other issues that arose. Overall, this data shows that there are no standard terms or rates for writers, even at the same publication.

We also have some more ambitious plans for using this data to better promote wage transparency.

Susie Cagle


An Interview with the Brave, Egyptian Cartoonist, Doaa el Adl

When I was at the festival in St. Just, France I had the opportunity to interview Doaa el Adl.  She is a rare female cartoonist in Egypt, and she has been persecuted by  by the Morsi regime for drawing a cartoon that featured Adam and Eve, an opportunity for the Muslim Brotherhood to chill her speech.  Editorial cartoonists are very important voices in Egypt, with their cartoons routinely running on the front pages of the many, vibrant newspapers in a culture that still reveres newspapers.

I think Doaa is a hero, for standing up to the regime, speaking truth to power, and putting herself at risk in doing so.

Interestingly, Doaa had some strong objections to my own cartoons.  Here are a couple of my cartoons that she disliked the most …

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Doaa says “Yes, Obama does that – but you draw him as an angel – he is no angel! He meddles in everything!  He wants to control everything!”

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To this one Doaa says, “Obama is not like that! He is in there fighting with everyone, making trouble, trying to run everything!”

Obama has managed to make all sides in the Middle East see him as the bad guy.


Help Us Save an Editorial Cartoonist

Click here to make a contribution to save Bill Day!

These are tough times for political cartoonists as newspapers cut back. Cartoonists are still widely syndicated in newspapers across the country, but national syndication pays a fraction of what cartoonists made from traditional staff jobs, making them an endangered species as cartoonists lose their jobs.

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Bill Day

The irony is that political cartoons are more popular than ever; cartoons spread quickly across social networks, look great on tablets and smart phones, and reach millions of readers through syndication. Editorial cartoons are part of state-mandated testing in 8th and 11th grade, and are a part of the weekly homework for millions of students in America.

day small Help Us Save an Editorial Cartoonist cartoonsIn recent years the number of editorial cartoonists has declined by half, to about 60.  One of the best is Bill Day, who drew for decades for The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, and before that the Detroit Free Press. Bill has a room full of trophies from a storied career as an editorial cartoonist, winning almost every prize a political cartoonist can win. Bill’s cartoons are syndicated to half of the newspapers in America, but there is little money to be made from syndication as newspapers pay pennies a day for cartoons.

When he was laid off from his newspaper, Bill went to work for Federal Express, lifting heavy boxes, until that was too much for his back.  Bill now works every day in a bike shop; he draws his cartoons at night; he is in danger of losing his house and faces the tough choice of retiring from his long career in editorial cartooning — ironically, at a time when more readers than ever are reading his work.

Editorial cartoonists are no different from newsroom journalists, who have been losing their jobs in the same proportion as newspapers cut back.  We know that journalism will continue to be important in the future, but we don’t know what form the business will take, as unemployed journalists now work as freelancers and bloggers; the same is true with editorial cartoonists, but since there are so few cartoonists the cuts threaten the viability of the profession. We may soon face a time when there are only a dozen political cartoonists left, and editorial pages will be like McDonald’s, with everyone in the world choosing their dinner from a handful of choices on the same, bland menu.

You can help stop the decline of our profession, stop the bleeding and preserve the public debate by saving one important voice at this important time.  You can keep Bill Day working, and we’ll make sure that his work continues to be seen by millions of readers in syndication.

We’re doing a crowd-funding campaign at to raise $35,000, to be paid as a salary to Bill to draw four editorial cartoons a week, every week, for an entire year, as if he was working for a newspaper. That’s a total of 208 cartoons, covering everything from the presidential election to Wall Street and our corrupt political system. If we’re able to raise more we will keep Bill working longer.  All donated funds will be kept in a segregated fund, only for Bill’s salary. Bill will send his original drawings as premium gifts to contributors, and will sign prints and send e-books to fans who donate in smaller amounts.

Our unique American art-form needs you.  Bill needs you.  Please, save our editorial cartooning profession, save Bill and keep an important, progressive voice in the public debate by donating to keep Bill drawing for the next year and beyond.

Click here to make a contribution to save Bill Day!

Here’s a video I made for Bill’s fundraising campaign:


And here are a handful of Bill’s terrific cartoons:

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