By: Rob Tornoe
Amid the doom-and-gloom news of more cutbacks, one newspaper is doubling-down on the notion that part of the future of journalism lies in the unique visual commentary that only a cartoonist can provide.
As part of its complete redesign of the Week in Review section, which debuts on June 26, The New York Times has decided to make a shift away from reprinting the work of editorial cartoonists from other publications to commissioning a cartoonist to provide exclusive content for the Times every Sunday.
“We wanted to keep the spirit of our current cartoon roundup, but wanted to do something original and different,” said Aviva Michaelov, art director for the Times Op-Ed page.
The new cartoon will look less like a traditional one-panel editorial cartoon and be more akin to a comic strip, giving the cartoonist a greater ability to visually explore the complexity of a single subject, whether it be the war in Afghanistan or the banking crisis.
But like most political cartoons, the intention is to attack a subject with humor and satire.
“Especially on Sunday, when readers read and relax, I think you need some comic relief in the newspaper,” Michaelov said. “Humor is important in dealing with current events, and satire is quite prevalent in news and on television.”
The Times will stick with the same cartoonist for the first couple months, gauging the response the feature receives. But it’s Michaelov’s intention to switch it up every couple of months to add variety.
“There are more terrific cartoonists out there now than ever before,” Michaelov said. “I hope this feature can be a stage to exhibit their talents.”
The news is bittersweet for many cartoonists, who saw the Sunday cartoon round up as a popular perch to get noticed.
Steve Kelley, the staff cartoonist for The Times-Picayune (syndicated by Creators) and president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC), feels the decision to eliminate the selection of political cartoons is disappointing.
“It is difficult to imagine that eliminating such visible, incisive, and amusing commentary will go unnoticed by Times readers, especially as the 2012 political storm gathers,” Kelley said.
“While we look forward to the Week in Review’s promised longer-format cartoon feature, we hope the editors will consider restoring the editorial cartoon selection.”
“I’m glad they’re engaging someone to do something fresh,” said Jack Ohman, staff cartoonist for The Oregonian (syndicated by Tribune Media Services). “I just wish they could preserve the space we have and augment it with the new form.”
“I don’t feel offended by The New York Times decision — I thought the weekly cartoon round-up was inconsistent in quality,” said Nick Anderson, the staff cartoonist for The Houston Chronicle (syndicated by the Washington Post Writers Group), who also said doesn’t understand the ire many cartoonists feel about the decision.
“I think it’s a good thing that they’re going to pay a cartoonist for original content, like they do their columnists,” Anderson said. “I fail to see that as a sign of disrespect.”
“I think it’s a positive development,” said Matt Bors, syndicated cartoonist (Universal Uclick) and editor of The Cartoon Movement.
“The future of the industry isn’t in four-day-old reprints,” Bors said. “The New York Times sets the tone, and hiring a cartoonist to create original work sends a big message. The Chicago Tribune hired Scott Stantis, the Los Angeles Times hired Ted Rall to provide local cartoons.”
“I hope other papers and websites follow suit,” he said.