For Intro to Media and Reporting
1. Reading the article “Cartoons Matter” from The Poynter Institute
2. Look at the examples at the bottom of the post, which are National Scholastic Press Association high school award winners.
3. Using the program of your choice – you can hand draw on a white sheet of paper and scan with your iPad, use an App with drawing features, Photoshop, etc. – come up with an idea on a current issue or event and form an opinion. Draw a school-appropriate cartoon.
4. Post your cartoon to your WordPress.
Deadline: End of class Wednesday, Jan. 8
by Howard Finberg
Cartoons matter. Comic strips and editorial cartoons. They mattered to me growing up. Cartoons were the first thing I read in a newspaper. They are the first thing that most children read. Cartoons got me hooked on reading, and I still remember sharing that experience with my father. So why is it that cartoons — and cartoonists — struggle to find their place at Journalism’s Table?
“There are more professional basketball players in the U.S. than there are full-time editorial cartoonists,” says Bruce Plante, editorial cartoonist for the Chattanooga Times Free Press and outgoing president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists.
Plante believes that editorial cartooning is at its lowest ebb in decades. From a high of more than 200 staff cartoonists working for daily newspapers in the early 1990s, fewer than 90 editorial pages boast their own full-time cartoonists today, according to an informal census by AAEC. Plante blames the trend on consolidation within the newspaper industry.
“Only a handful of cities today have competing newspapers, and a precious few of those are still locally owned,” he said in an e-mail interview. “The editorial cartoonist has become an easy salary to cut for distant corporate publishers looking to improve the bottom line. The bottom line is not always conducive to the best journalism.”
It wasn’t always this way. At one time, editorial cartoons — and their creators — were extremely powerful forces in daily newspapers. These visual opinion pieces had a potent impact upon readers and, sometimes, society.
According to “Political Cartoons and Cartoonists,” one of the first editorial cartoons in a daily newspaper ran in Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World on October 30, 1884. The World “published a cartoon by Walt McDougall satirizing a dinner held the night before honoring Republican presidential candidate James G. Blaine. McDougall’s cartoon was printed across the full width of the front page of the paper under the caption ‘The Royal Feast of Belshazzar Blaine and the Money Kings.’ The cartoon created an immediate sensation and was credited for contributing to Blaine’s defeat in the election five days later.”
One hundred years later, Paul Conrad, a three-time Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist for the Los Angeles Times, earned a place in political history when he was put on President Richard Nixon’s enemies list in 1973. Conrad joined dozens of journalists Nixon thought were too critical. Those cartoons mattered. At least to that president. Nixon’s list also included many editorial columnists. (For a look at how editorial cartoonists can stir up controversy, see Patrick Reardon’s July 18, 2003 story in the Chicago Tribune headlined: “Drawing blood; A newspaper’s editorial cartoons are meant to sting, even offend.”)
Columnist, Cartoonist. What’s the difference?
Word folks might disagree, but they have a lot in common with cartoonists. Both have a view they want to share with an audience. Both develop ideas and decide how best to communicate them. Both create a draft, which is sometimes (usually) tinkered with by an editor. Finally, both complete the work and hope that readers get the point.
Unlike a columnist -– who has a column of text with which to convey his or her thoughts –- the cartoonist has to do all of this using very few words and has to create the right visual image. It is harder than it looks. And it’s even harder when you’re dealing with local issues.
“Our editorials are about 70 to 75 percent local, and I feel strongly that we should have cartoon comment on the local scene. It’s easier to pick and choose among the syndicated offerings than having to wrangle with an opinionated cartoonist down the hall. But isn’t the reader best served with a mix of local, national, and international? I think so,” says John H. Taylor Jr., editor of the opinion pages at The News Journal in Wilmington, Del., and president of the National Conference of Editorial Writers.
Taylor acknowledges there is a cost involved.
“With a local cartoonist, the editor has to be well up on his game about what’s going on. I think some editors don’t find commenting on local/state/regional issues a worthy pursuit,” Taylor says in an e-mail interview. “It would follow that they don’t want a cartoonist wasting space on local ‘toons.” Instead, they create “an opportunity to use the slot created for the cartoonist for another word person: writer or editor.”
Daryl Cagle, who runs the popular MSN/Slate Cartoonist Index site, believes editors may be using more syndicated cartoons to avoid dealing with angry readers.
“I think the nature of our audience and our times have changed such that readers are more easily offended. Readers are divided and angry. Years ago, cartoonists would receive letters that would argue an opposing point of view. Now the letters are written to our publishers, demanding that a cartoonist be fired, demanding apologies, describing the cartoonist as racist, containing threats, and describing how deeply offended the readers are,” said Cagle in an e-mail interview.
While it is hard to measure the specific impact editorial cartoons have on readership, there is some research on the reach of opinion pages in newspapers.
More Important than Sports?
According to Belden Associates (a newspaper research firm), there are about as many regular readers of the daily editorial page (47 percent) as there are readers of sports (45 percent) or business (44 percent). The new Newspaper Association of America study puts editorial readership at 44 percent.
Brent Stahl, vice president of MORI Research, believes cartoons are one of the major attractions of editorial pages.
“I’ve long had the impression that a good part of regular ‘readership’ of editorial pages consists of looking at the cartoon and then glancing at the various headlines on the page,” he said in an e-mail interview.
“The fact that readership surveys consistently tell publishers and editors that readers want more graphic elements, local content, and local commentary places a staff editorial cartoonist as one of the most valuable elements a newspaper can give their readers,” says Plante. “Full-time staff cartoonists provide all three elements. A local cartoonist also provides: Character, humanity, humor, community outreach, and more reader engagement.”
So, why don’t cartoonists get the respect they want? Or deserve?
“Cartoonists have a ‘respect’ issue because they act subservient to those of us who make our points with words,” says Taylor.
“They ought not to do that. I treat our cartoonist the same way I treat our local columnists. He just used pictures instead of words. We’re sort of moderate to liberal in our editorials. He’s sort of conservative. He’s free to draw from whatever perspective he’s comfortable with — same as the columnists. He comes to editorial board meetings and if he doesn’t talk up, I remind him that it’s part of his job description to talk. I don’t let him pretend (as some cartoonists do) that he’s just a dummy. He isn’t.”
Few readers –- and perhaps few editors -– understand this unique form of commentary, and its creators, so well. Fewer still understand how this commentary is crafted.
Introducing “Persuasive Art”
That is why we are introducing “Persuasive Art,” a new Poynter Online feature to help journalists understand how editorial cartoons begin and are developed. The feature grew out of an earlier series on how cartoonists approached the Iraq War.
Co-authored by me and Sara Quinn, “Persuasive Art” will help journalists understand the unique challenge of using visuals to communicate a viewpoint. Each week, we will look at dozens of editorial cartoons from around the world and then invite one cartoonist to answer three questions about a particular piece of work:
• What sparked the idea?
• How did the concept evolve?
• Why does the cartoon work?
Join us as we look over the artist’s shoulder and enjoy some great cartoons together.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article lacked attribution for the passage referring to the Oct. 30, 1884 editorial cartoon that appeared in New York World. The passage was taken from “Political Cartoons and Cartoonists,” and now has quotation marks around it. (8/28/03)