Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Staff Cartoonists Make a Comeback: Newspapers Turn Once Again to Cartoonists to Give Op-Ed Pages a Unique Voice

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Staff Cartoonists Make a Comeback: Newspapers Turn Once Again to Cartoonists to Give Op-Ed Pages a Unique Voice

Article excerpt

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BACK IN THE DAYS WHEN CITIES HAD MULTIPLE newspapers competing for the same readers, they coveted the skills of political cartoonists, whose deft wit and visually compelling content could sometimes make the difference between growing readership and getting lost in the shuffle.

As print competition declined, and a good number of newspapers found themselves as a local newsgathering monopoly, many editors were forced to make the difficult and painful choice to cut their staff cartoonist, choosing cheaper syndicated materi al to fill the slot.

Unfortunately, this short-term thinking hampers them now as newspapers once again find themselves in an ultra-competitive market where content, especially visually compelling original content, is king.

"They've done some kind of financial calculus to figure out a head count they can get rid of," said Al Olsen, senior editor at msnbc.com, which uses the cartoons of Daryl Cagle (syndicated by Cagle Cartoons) to drive Web traffic. "Their math suggests they can fill their pages with content that everyone else has, and do it at a cost where readers aren't going to give a damn. I think it's tragic and misguided."

Fortunately, several news organizations have gone back to the well and found innovative ways to leverage the popularity of their staff cartoonist to help their newspapers retain and grow readers in our 21st century media market.

Newsday occasionally runs fullpage cartoons on its front cover by its Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Walt Handelsman (syndicated by Tribune Media Services). The Oregonian's staff cartoonist, Jack Ohman (syndicated by Tribune Media Services), produces long-form sequential cartoons for the Sunday edition. And several cartoonists, from Handelsman to Mike Thompson of the Detroit Free Press (syndicated by Creators), create animated cartoons for their newspapers' websites.

One cartoonist who takes a varied approach is Scott Stantis, staff cartoonist for the Chicago Tribune (syndicated by Tribune Media Services). Hired in 2009 to fill the long-open position vacated by the death of Jeff MacNelly, Stantis has become a popular asset at the paper in a short amount of time, due in no small part to the creativity he brings to his various projects.

"Scott has become a multimedia star," said R. Bruce Dold, editorial page editor for the Tribune. Recently, Stantis created a feature for the paper called "Draw Rahm," soliciting readers to draw and send in their own drawings of Chicago's new mayor to the paper. According to Dold, the response was overwhelming, a signal that a cartoonist can be vital to a newspaper's crowd-sourcing efforts.

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"We had everyone from kids to grandparents sending drawings in, some in beautiful framed portraits," Dold said. "We had to run two days' worth of them, because one day just wasn't enough."

Stantis and the Tribune have developed many different avenues for readers to communicate and become part of the creative process, including caption contests and a blog where Stantis regularly interacts directly with readers. He also has a recurring segment on WGN-TV in Chicago called "Stantis Rant." But for Dold, it all comes down to local content and the unique voice Stantis brings to the community. …

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