Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Want to Stand out on Social? Use Cartoons: Using 'Live Drawing' Can Boost Your Online Presence with Engaging, Timely Content

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Want to Stand out on Social? Use Cartoons: Using 'Live Drawing' Can Boost Your Online Presence with Engaging, Timely Content

Article excerpt

Cartoons have a long and storied history with newspapers, going all the way back to "The Yellow Kid" in the late 19th century. Popular among readers, cartoons about sports, politics and the absurdity of everyday life have been bringing readers back to their daily newspaper for well over 100 years.

So, why are editors reluctant to use cartoons online?

Cartoons work perfectly in print, where a reader's eyes tend to be attracted first to the simple imagery associated with most cartoons. Before they even contemplate reading it, they're already engaged with the page. On the web, there is so much content saturated on a single page that finding space for a well-drawn cartoon is almost impossible. Most editors are simply content to throw some cartoons into a slideshow and focus their energy on the next problem.

But some enterprising news outlets have found a unique way to utilize cartoonists in the age of social media with 'dive drawing." Instead of relegating social media to an afterthought of lazy hashtags and story dumps, several media companies have begun to deeply integrate the idea of social into their content itself.

That's where cartoonists can be a valuable asset, both in terms of branding and standing out from the herd.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

One of the first media companies to experiment with using live cartoons to cover events was the New York Times. Back in 2011 and armed with a sketchpad and smartphone, illustrator Christoph Niemann live-illustrated the New York City Marathon for the New York Times Magazine. Over the course of 26.2 miles, Niemann created 46 sketches which ran the gamut of pre-race worries to overly-loud music, with time to chronicle his dying phone battery in-between.

Niemann's live-coverage was an inspiration for New York Times senior staff editor Jim Luttrell. During panning meetings in November for the Times'Super Bowl coverage, Luttrell, looking to push the boundaries of the newspaper's coverage, asked, "Why don't we try to illustrate it live?"

Enter Bob Eckstein, a longtime New York cartoonist whose work appears regularly in the Times and the New Yorker. Eckstein, a contributor to the Times' sports pages for years, jumped at the chance to try something new.

"Although I'm not a hardcore sports fan, I always enjoyed watching the game as an event," Eckstein said. "Once I noticed the instant commentary appearing on social media, I decided I wanted to be at that lunch table in the cafeteria ... the one with the wise-alecks."

In addition to a couple of illustrations commissioned by the Times to cover the pre-game atmosphere, Eckstein drew a total of nine cartoons during the game itself, ranging from a pre-game cartoon drawn from a Seahawks bar in New York City to a cartoon questioning the decision to have the Red Hot Chili Peppers perform during the NFL's first cold-weather Super Bowl (Eckstein thought Coldplay or Ice Cube might be more appropriate performers).

In addition to the cartoons being pushed out along the Times' various social media accounts, they were also embedded in their live blog, which featured content from many staffers and contributors. They were also used in a slideshow after the game and in the final print product, showcasing the cross-platform possibilities of having cartoonists cover events.

"I think Bob's cartoons were able to cross-over into many different audiences," said Luttrell. "I just think it really plays to people that wouldn't ordinarily come to our sports blog."

The New York Times wasn't the only media company interested in Eckstein's live cartoons. …

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