Grievance Filed Over Cartoonist’s Layoff

By: Dave Astor

The Minnesota Newspaper Guild-Typographical Union filed a grievance over Kirk Anderson’s layoff from the St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press.

The union is saying Anderson might have had some seniority in the paper’s art department. Pioneer Press management reportedly felt Anderson was in a category of one as an editorial cartoonist. Union Executive Officer Mike Sweeney told E&P Online he hopes to meet next week with the paper’s management about the grievance.

Meanwhile, Pioneer Press reporter Chuck Laszewski said he’s still trying to set up a meeting with Harold Higgins, the paper’s president and publisher, to present him with a petition urging Anderson’s reinstatement. It was signed by about 250 staffers.

Higgins has declined to speak with E&P Online, and a newspaper spokesperson could not be reached for comment.

Pioneer Press readers this week are only gradually learning that Anderson has been laid off, because his farewell cartoon was killed.

The cartoon, slated to run April 25, showed an unemployed Anderson sitting with his drawing materials outside the Pioneer Press office. A thought balloon coming out of his head says: “Okay, NOW it’s a recession.” But Anderson thinks it was the content of a memo he sent to the Romenesko site, rather than the content of the cartoon, that got the drawing yanked.

Anderson’s memo (posted April 24 at http://www.poynter.org) said, in part: “I’d probably cut the private service that comes in to water and dust and turn the plants in the publisher’s office before I’d cut a local cartoonist. In other words, I’d cut something only the privileged few who enter the publisher’s office see, before I’d cut something 190,000 readers see.” He also criticized Pioneer Press executives who would not comment about his layoff to the media. “Our business demands openness of others…,” Anderson wrote. “Were we not hypocrites, we would honorably hold ourselves to the same standard.”

In a letter to Romenesko the next day, Anderson said Higgins responded to the cartoonist’s memo “less enthusiastically than the rest of the staff; he promptly killed my last cartoon. Also, he killed a little boxed editor’s note saying this was my last day and why I was leaving.”

Steve Dornfeld, Anderson’s editor at the paper, couldn’t be reached for comment.

Anderson, who had been a thrice-weekly staffer for the paper since 1995, told E&P Online: “It wasn’t a stunner that the [memo to Romenesko] would have negative consequences for me.” The cartoonist was initially thinking he might lose several thousand dollars in severance, but that apparently will not be the case. Severance or no severance, Anderson said it’s important for people in the media to speak frankly in situations like this. “I didn’t want to live as if someone’s money controls what I say,” he said. “When I look back in 10 or 20 years, I will remember that I did the right thing.”

Anderson said it has been “comforting and gratifying” to receive support from fellow cartoonists, Pioneer Press staffers, and the paper’s readers — some of whom contacted Anderson after hearing about his layoff on Minnesota Public Radio.

E&P welcomes letters to the editor: letters@editorandpublisher.com.

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