Syndicates: A Winding Road to Pulitzer Gold

By: Shawn Moynihan

“I didn’t have any tip-off, I was home with my wife,” says Mark Fiore, the self-syndicated editorial cartoonist who was surprised to hear he had won this year’s Pulitzer Prize in that category. The two were “having a little business meeting ourselves, about my site, and I got the call from the online editor at McClatchy. So it was kind of a weird way to find out.”

He really shouldn’t have been that shocked, for very little of Fiore’s success has come via the usual avenues. Take his work, which isn’t distributed by a syndicate and doesn’t fit the traditional mold of editorial cartoons. His are animated, which make this the first-ever Pulitzer win with such creations.

Fiore first made the switch from static to animated editorial cartoons in the early 2000s, a move that he says made his work more appealing to jaded editors. “There were hardly any people doing it, and you can count on one hand the amount of people who are still doing it,” he says. “I loved it immediately and I knew it was a good business move at the time, but it still was a shot in the dark. But back in those days, it was amazing. You’d call an editor, and they’d be [watching simple animations] and flipping out, saying, ‘It’s moving! And it’s on the Web!!’” he laughs. “It was an easy in to at least wow editors — they were freaking out over eye blinks.”

Fiore started out doing editorial cartoons at smaller papers in Colorado before landing his first big gig at the The Examiner in San Francisco as a freelancer in 1993. More work followed at the Daily Camera in Boulder, Colo., The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times before he made the fortuitous decision in the late ’90s to differentiate himself from the cartooning pack. He stopped doing national work, and instead focused more on regional and local cartoons in California.

It worked. “There was such a glut of stuff coming in that I was able to make my way in the door,” he says, and for a short time he found himself doing work for both the San Francisco Chronicle and the Examiner. Then in 2001 came what seemed like a dream gig: a staff cartoonist job at the San Jose Mercury News. “I was on the job a week, and I got this sinking feeling that it might not work,” he says, jokingly citing an “involved” editor and turmoil in the newsroom. After six months, he was back to freelancing.

Fiore’s work has been featured on the San Francisco Chronicle’s Web site,, for nearly a decade, and his work also appears on,, and NPR’s Web site.

He’s also no stranger to accolades: In 2004 Fiore was awarded a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award and has twice received an Online Journalism Award for commentary from the Online News Association (2002, 2008). He holds two awards for his work in new media from the National Cartoonists Society (2001, 2002), and in 2006 received The James Madison Freedom of Information Award from The Society of Professional Journalists. The Pulitzer judges noted his “extensive research and ability to distill complex issues set a high standard for an emerging form of commentary.”

Does being self-syndicated add an extra sense of vindication to the win? “It’s been such a whirlwind, that I haven’t thought about that,” he says, adding, “It definitely feels good, to have put all that out there on my own, and not have a syndicate touting my work.”

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Published: May 19, 2010


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