Feature Sales, Post Sept. 11

By: Dave Astor

On Sept. 10, E&P Online ran a story about how recession-like conditions were hurting syndicates. A day later, the attacks on America dealt a new jolt to the economy.

So have things gone even further south for syndicates since then? Yes and no.

Universal Press Syndicate President Robert Duffy said Universal sales have dipped only “slightly” since Sept. 11. “The reason probably has more to do with editors having to turn their attention to the news of the day, rather than anything to do with budget or space,” he added.

Some other executives said less budget and space for features has been a post-Sept. 11 issue. But, overall, things have not been totally negative for syndicates.

At King Features Syndicate, for instance, Editor in Chief Jay Kennedy reported virtually no client cancellations of content — but few new sales. He said air travel was difficult for a while after Sept. 11, with salespeople only able to visit papers by car. “And, during a crisis, it’s hard to get appointments with busy editors,” Kennedy added.

Copley News Service Editorial Director Glenda Winders said Copley salespeople aren’t phoning papers as much. “It just doesn’t seem like the time to be in people’s faces,” she said, while noting that Copley still makes sales pitches in other ways (such as by e-mail) and continues to call potential clients to sell its holiday packages because papers are hoping advertising will start rebounding by then.

Speaking of the holiday season, the Washington Post Writers Group still plans to launch “Out of the Gene Pool” Dec. 31. WPWG Editorial Director/General Manager Alan Shearer said attendees at the recent American Association of Sunday and Feature Editors meeting indicated they’d be willing to consider a new comic, especially one with a “diversity and acceptance” theme. “A dark-humor type of strip would have a tougher time these days,” Shearer observed.

Pitts’ Client List Increases 10%

Some established features have done well since Sept. 11. For instance, the client list for Leonard Pitts Jr.’s Miami Herald column rose 10%, to more than 150 papers, said Tribune Media Services (TMS) Sales Director Doug Page. This came after Pitts wrote a widely praised Sept. 12 column about the attacks that elicited a stunning 26,000 e-mail messages.

King has seen increased sales for the “Defending America” column by ex-Army Col. David Hackworth, as has Creators Syndicate for columns by ex-military men Oliver North and Austin Bay. Several other Op-Ed columnists and editorial cartoonists also have done well.

Business isn’t necessarily of the subscription variety. Shearer said various papers have sampled WPWG’s columnists for free since Sept. 11; they may or may not become regular subscribers. Copley has made a number of sales on a one-time reprint basis, with the most popular cartoon, by The San Diego Union-Tribune‘s Steve Breen, showing an American eagle sharpening its claws. Winders said Copley is allowing some free reprints, such as those requested by military people.

The New York Times Syndicate has made many separate-buy sales since Sept. 11, according to Marketing Communications Manager John Stickney. These include Foreign Affairs magazine articles, author Salman Rushdie’s October column, and various other pieces.

TMS, which began allowing one-shot sales of opinion columns and editorial cartoons this spring, has seen these sales rise since Sept. 11. At least 10 or 20 purchases were of Pitts’ Sept. 12 column.

The state of TMS subscription sales in recent weeks? “Some newspapers are holding steady or contracting budgets, but sales so far are doing OK,” Page said. “I haven’t been displeased at all.”

Creators Syndicate President Rick Newcombe recalled that business wasn’t good the week of Sept. 11. “We were all so stunned — the whole country was so stunned — that selling and buying features was the last thing on anyone’s mind,” he said, adding that sales began picking up the next week and were “almost back to normal” after that until slowing somewhat again as papers began focusing on the anthrax attacks.

United Media Senior Vice President/General Manager Sid Goldberg agreed that sales were “a blank” the week of Sept. 11, but rose since then. He said there’s been more interested in United-marketed content from sources such as Slate.com, Salon.com, and the Christian Science Monitor News Service — and that feature sales often pick up in September anyway as summer ends and newspaper editors know the size of their new budgets.

Goldberg added that the post-Sept. 11 world has indirectly helped syndicated features because people are “paying more attention to the media — and many feel newspapers are the most reliable source of information, which favors anything in the paper. Readers may go from the headlines to other pages.”


The Battle, Him, and ‘The Republic’
Benson Anti-War Cartoons Irk Some Readers

Some Arizonans who pledge allegiance to the Republic are upset at the Phoenix newspaper’s editorial cartoonist for doing several anti-war drawings since Sept. 11.

Steve Benson, a 1993 Pulitzer Prize winner, said readers have sent “hundreds” of letters, with about two-thirds blasting him and the rest defending him. Republic Reader Advocate Richard de Uriarte wrote Oct. 21 that Benson “has veered way off the political mainstream” in criticizing the Afghanistan war and Americans supporting it — and that the paper thought about countering Benson’s views with “cartoons flattering to President Bush.” But Assistant Editorial Page Editor Ken Western said this would have taken away too much space from columns, and that the paper already runs four non-Benson cartoons on Mondays.

“The role of the editorial cartoonist is to question policy,” said Benson, noting that bombing Afghanistan can harm innocent civilians and “isn’t going to quickly solve our problems.” He said those behind the “atrocious” Sept. 11 attacks must be tried in an international court, and that he’s done cartoons mourning the victims, extolling firefighters, etc. But Benson won’t be part of “groupthink” and a “jingoistic mad rush to war.”

The self-described independent said it’s interesting that “patriotism is enforced” in Afghanistan and now some Republic readers want to enforce patriotism in the United States.

Benson said Republic Editorial Page Editor Keven Willey supports his right to do cartoons she doesn’t agree with. He said his work doesn’t run on the editorial page and is clearly marked as his opinion, not that of the paper — which is more hawkish on the war.

None of Benson’s approximately 300 syndicated newspaper clients have complained to United Media about his anti-war cartoons, according to United Executive Director for Public Relations Mary Anne Grimes.

To see the last 10 “Syndicate World” columns, click here. Previous columns may be purchased in our paid archives. Search for “Astor” in the “Author” field.

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