In a recent article on The Huffington Post, editor-turned-freelance writer Jason Notte said: “If newspaper's death knell is ringing, editorial cartoonists are pulling the rope.” Ignoring the fact that his chest-thumping piece, “Ten Features that Are Dying with your Newspaper,” was yet another in the newspapers-are-dead-do-you-hear-me-dead! category Huffpo is apparently trying to corner, I kinda like the moniker “rope puller.” So, let's yank on the cord once again with the latest in layoffs and buyouts! —JP
Award-winning cartoonist Robert Ariail announced March 16 that he would rather resign from The State, his longtime base for lampooning some of the most powerful world, national, state and local figures, rather than accept a cut to part-time status.
Ariail, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 1995 and 2000, turned down a part-time job that had been offered in the wake of cost-cutting measures taken by the paper's parent, The McClatchy Company, and instead accepted a buyout.
The week before, the paper laid off 38 people — 11 percent of its work force — and cut employee wages up to 10%.
Ariail, who joined The State in 1984, said he planned to continue his work through United Media syndicate, which serves more than 600 newspapers and magazines, and Daryl Cagle's site.
“I hope to find another job in editorial cartooning,” said Ariail. “I'm 53. It's difficult to remake myself, and I don't want to.”
Among those laid off was Ariail's boss for the past 15 years, vice president and editorial page editor Brad Warthen.
“Robert is probably one of the most talented people I've ever worked with,” Warthen said.
In a letter posted on Daryl Cagle's blog, Ariail later wrote, “Sorry I haven't gotten back to you before now—I've been inundated with mail, e-mail and phone calls that I've tried to answer and thank everyone for all of their kind words and thoughts. I never thought getting laid off would lead to so much work! As for getting the boot, it wasn't a surprise. I saw this coming for nearly a year. It still stings nonetheless.
“I've also just started a web site: robertariail.com that I will post my new cartoons on (as well as an archive of my work from my 25 plus years with The State.) And as tough as this market is, I'm going to start sending out my resume to papers and see if anything comes from it. One hopeful sign already is that my publisher told me not to be surprised if he called me to return to work at the end of 2009 (the buy-out I took legally prevents them from rehiring during the calendar year.)
“All said, it's not so bad. I've always had an optimistic outlook and I believe that if one door closes another opens — you just have to find that door!”
Two days later, Bill Day, who has been at the Memphis Commercial Appeal for the last 10 years, was suddenly laid-off as part of cutbacks by corporate parent E.W. Scripps.
“It was a terrible shock. I don't know what I'm going to do,” Day told Comic Riffs blogger Michael Cavna, who reached the cartoonist by phone while he packed up his personal belongings in the newsroom. “I've got a family to support and my 401(k) is shot and I might lose my house. I'm a total wreck right now. I'm at a total loss of even what to think.”
According to Alan Gardner of The Daily Cartoonist, Day was asked to have his office cleaned out in an hour, but after protesting that it would take much longer than that to clear out his work, they gave him the rest of the afternoon.
“It's been a wonderful job to work for [Otis Standford, his editor]. He gave me complete freedom. It was wonderful. I loved every minute of it. I can't believe it's over. I love the city, the paper,” Day said.
Day plans to continue his syndicated cartoons through United Media.
In an online 'exit interview' Day told Cavna, “I've been in political cartooning my whole life. I'm 61. I've been in Memphis for 10 years ... and I was a staff artist back [here] in the late '70s [before going to Detroit]. I love Memphis.”
Day added, “I don't understand why, when you're going to a visual medium [online], why you want to get rid of cartoonists. It's made for cartoonists. ... We're like the Jiminy Cricket of the newspaper. We're the conscience.”
On April 3, Alan Gardner posted: “Decrement the staff count by one this morning. From a couple of sources it looks like Gary Brookins, the award winning editorial cartoonist for the Richmond Times-Dispatch has been laid off along with 90 others.
“Gary has been with the paper since 1979 and is syndicated through King Features. He also produces the comic panel Pluggers and co-produces Jeff MacNelly's Shoe. He was also a nominee for best editorial cartoonist last year by the National Cartoonist Society.
Tom Meyer, long-time editorial cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle, left the paper in April after accepting a buyout offer. Meyer had been with the newspaper since 1981.
“Tom's departure will deprive me of one of my favorite moments of the day: When he would bring in three or four rough sketches of editorial cartoons,” Editorial Page Editor John Diaz wrote. “I'll also miss his insights — and, often, levity — at our weekly planning meetings. Tom is every bit as quick-witted in the office as his cartoons are on the page. However, I am happy to report that Tom does have plans to freelance or syndicate his work — and, once he does, we will be among his customers.”
Right before we went press came news that The Vancouver Sun had abruptly laid off Roy Peterson, 73. He had been with the Sun for 47 years, starting there in 1962. Peterson's work has also appeared in Punch, Time and The New York Times, and for many years MacLean's magazine. In that time he has won seven National Newspaper Awards, the most in the history of the awards in any category.
“Roy's cartoons are the stuff of legend in Canadian cartooning,” a blogger posted on the ACEC website, “his wit and artwork second to none, as proven by his 7 National Newspaper Awards. ...There will no doubt be a wave of anger moving through our waters at this news. Frankly, for his position at the Sun to come to an end in this fashion is appalling.”
Finally, in an e-mail sent out April 18, Ted Rall wrote, “I suppose it would be wrong for the president of the AAEC not to have been laid off, so the fates have set things straight.
“Scripps has laid off eight people from United Media, including me. Since 2006 I was working three days a week as Editor of Acquisitions & Development, where I signed the comic strips 'The Knight Life' by Keith Knight, Matt Bors' editorial cartoons, 'Family Tree' by Signe Wilkinson, 'Minimum Security' by Stephanie McMillan and several other features of which I am very proud.
“It's a huge financial hit, obviously, but I have other projects to work on, especially books and animation. What I will miss most is the opportunity to reshape the comics and other pages with material that was less conventional. I just hope these layoffs end soon...”