My buddy, Nate Beeler, drew for many years for the Washington Examiner and the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch. Alas, Nate recently left the Dispatch with a round of brutal cost cutting –a common story for editorial cartoonists these days. Nate is brilliant, and his cartoons occupy the political center, which is unusual and which gets his cartoons reprinted more than the majority of cartoonists who draw from the left. Nate’s favorite cartoons from the past decade are shown below.
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Nate drew the first cartoon, showing the Statue of Justice hugging the Statue of Liberty, when the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage. I think this was one of the most popular and reprinted editorial cartoons ever.
I wear three hats, as a cartoonist and as the leader of a “syndicate” that resells a package of editorial cartoons and columns to over 800 newspapers in the USA –my third hat is running our big Cagle.com Web site. I love editorial cartoons. I do what I love. But, love can be painful …
Our troubled editorial cartooning profession has been losing employee positions in roughly the same proportion as all newsroom jobs lost over the past couple of decades. Journalism has become a freelance profession, and so has editorial cartooning. Three of our CagleCartoonists recently lost their jobs, Patrick Chappatte with The International New York Times, Nate Beeler with The Columbus Dispatch and Rick McKee with The Augusta Chronicle. Bad news for editorial cartoonists seems to be coming in at a faster clip.
Conservative editors don’t like the liberal cartoons; angry readers demand retribution from newspapers and cartoonists who offend them; timid newspapers fear losing readers who are easily offended; all are just spice in our complex stew, which started brewing when newspapers lost their the bulk of their advertising revenue to the internet, and began a slow decline in circulation.
Online clients haven’t replaced print clients for us. As print declines, online publications don’t hire cartoonists and have not developed a culture of paying for content, and few of them purchase syndicated cartoons. We have some great online clients, like FoxNews.com and CNN.com, but they are the exceptions.
There are now between 1,300 and 1,400 daily, paid circulation newspapers in the USA. Thirty years ago there were over 1,800 dailies and over 130 employee editorial cartoonists –only a very small percentage of newspapers ever hired staff cartoonists. The vast majority of American newspaper readers have seen editorial cartoons through syndication. The number of syndicated editorial cartoonists hasn’t changed much in the past 50 years.
In recent years as newspapers continue to struggle, rates for syndicated cartoons have declined, but cut-rate deals for packages of syndicated cartoons have driven rates close to zero. Larger syndicates “bundle” editorial cartoons with their comics, essentially including the editorial cartoons for free. Editorial cartoons are thrown into packages with puzzles and advice columns, in cheap weekly, college and specialty offerings. Editorial cartoons are sometimes sold in group deals for “pennies per paper.”
In general, 20% of the cartoonists get 80% of the reprints, so the majority of editorial cartoonists have always struggled in a difficult profession and have never earned a lot. The same percentage still applies to slices of today’s smaller pie.
American editorial cartoonists are mostly liberal, and most American newspapers are rural and suburban papers serving conservative readers, so there is a supply and demand disparity. Liberal cartoons don’t get reprinted as much, because there is an over-supply of liberal cartoons. That said, conservative cartoons expressing strong opinions also don’t get reprinted much. The cartoons that are increasingly the most reprinted are the funny cartoons that express little or no opinion at all.
One of our clients, The China Daily, is owned by the Communist government in China; they asked me, “Daryl, how many of your cartoons express no opinion? Those are the cartoons we want.” The Chinese aren’t much different from American editors in this regard –except that they are more blunt.
When Trump was elected we were flooded with calls from unhappy editors complaining that, “all the cartoons I like have stopped!” The problem was that cartoonists stopped drawing the Hillary and Obama bashing cartoons that conservative editors preferred. We put up a selection of “Trump Friendly Cartoons” near the top of our CagleCartoons.com site that helps conservative editors find the cartoons they like in a sea of liberal cartoons they dislike; this helped to stop the hemorrhaging of conservative subscribers.
Cartoonists don’t draw for their clients, we draw whatever we want. We’re macho like that. Clients be damned. Sometimes that attitude comes back to bite us. Everything seems to be biting us these days.
We’ve also seen a continuing trickle of newspapers drop their entire editorial pages, including the editorial cartoon. I’m told that editorial pages make readers angry and don’t bring in income. And, of-course, newspapers are going out of business.
I’m often asked about whether Trump and our polarized political environment are behind the decline of editorial cartoons. There is plenty that is wrong in our troubled profession, but it isn’t as simple as editors rejecting the Trump-bashing cartoons. This stew was brewing long before Trump.
Editorial cartoons are an important part of journalism. Don’t let editorial cartoons disappear!
Here at CagleCartoons we syndicate a package of great cartoonists to more than half of America’s daily, paid-circulation newspapers; we’re an important source of income to our struggling cartoonists. Our Cagle.com Web site is free and runs no advertising –the site is entirely supported by contributions from our readers. We need your support. Cagle.com is an important resource for editorial cartoonists around the world and is used in Social Studies classrooms throughout America. Help us survive!
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Editorial cartoonists losing their staff jobs has become old news as staff cutbacks at newspaper chains continue, but yesterday was an especially bad day. The Gatehouse chain laid off three staff cartoonists, Nate Beeler of The Columbus Dispatch, Rick McKee of The Augusta Chronicle and Mark Streeter of The Savannah Morning News. They have been regular contributors to our Cagle.com site for close to fifteen years. Gatehouse’s fourth cartoonist, Dave Granlund, was not laid off, apparently because he works under a freelance contract and was not an employee. Beeler and McKee are part of our CagleCartoons.com newspaper syndicate and are among our most popular cartoonists.
Gatehouse is America’s largest newspaper chain in terms of number of newspapers. (Gannett is the largest newspaper chain in term of number of readers.) The three cartoonists who were laid off were part of Gatehouse’s “More Content Now” shared services, distributing their work in internal syndication to all of the Gatehouse newspapers, so their loss will be felt by a large number of newspapers. Even though the value of the creative contribution of the three cartoonists’ work was multiplied across all the newspapers in the Gatehouse chain, making them much more valuable than the other employees laid off in this round of cuts, this cost-cutting move by Gatehouse doesn’t come as a surprise.
Rick tells me he hopes to continue drawing cartoons for the approximately 850 newspapers that subscribe to our syndicate, and I hope the same will be true for Nate. My sincere condolences go out to all three, and I am confident that they will continue to have successful cartooning careers as their work turns in new directions.