Transition Time For Editorial Cartoonists

By: Dave Astor

The outgoing and incoming presidents of America’s editorial cartoonists work in Alabama and Tennessee, respectively, but they’re doing their best to make sure the profession doesn’t “go south.”

This means they’re trying to counter trends such as the decrease in staff cartoonists at U.S. dailies, where some editors and publishers seem to feel local cartoonists aren’t worth having.

Scott Stantis, whose 2001-02 term as Association of American Editorial Cartoonists president ends Sept. 15, helped take the AAEC in a stronger advocacy direction. For instance, a letter was sent to The Buffalo (N.Y.) News this June criticizing it for not replacing The Washington Post-bound Tom Toles.

“Thank goodness Washington and New Orleans pulled the trigger,” said Stantis, referring to the Post replacing Herblock and The Times-Picayune hiring Steve Kelley to succeed Walt Handelsman.

But a number of other papers — most notably the Chicago Tribune, where the job left vacant by Jeff MacNelly’s 2000 death remains unfilled — aren’t hiring or are hiring very slowly.

Budget considerations are a factor. Papers can buy syndicated cartoons for as little as $5 or $10 a week rather than pay a full-time salary. And some editors and publishers prefer to run a national cartoon over a local one that might anger readers, advertisers, and government officials.

But even if some people get aggravated, surveys indicate visual commentary is noticed. “Editorial cartoons bring readers into newspapers and keep them coming back,” said Stantis, 43, who’s with The Birmingham (Ala.) News and Copley News Service. He added that local cartoons can help “define” a politician in the eyes of the electorate, giving a newspaper “enormous power.”

Plante Will Succeed Stantis

Stantis’ AAEC successor is the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Times Free Press-based Bruce Plante, 48, who self-syndicates his cartoons to 80 other papers. During his 2002-03 term, Plante plans to continue AAEC advocacy efforts and also increase the visibility of cartoonists by having them attend various journalism conventions. For instance, cartoonists will speak at the National Conference of Editorial Writers’ Sept. 18-21 meeting in Nashville, Tenn. And Plante wants to gather more data proving editorial cartoons are among the most-read parts of newspapers.

“Readers want visual elements and local content,” he said. “We do both.”

Plante has some optimism about the profession. “The number of full-time jobs is down — partly because there are fewer newspapers owned by fewer people — but it’s not a dying craft.” He cited the many editorial cartoonists who do work for syndication, the Internet, and magazines.

Plante will preside over the AAEC’s next convention, June 18-21 in Pittsburgh. But he, Stantis, and a number of other AAECers would like to see the organization meet in Washington, D.C., every four of five years — a span of time that, among other things, would periodically bring cartoonists face to face with members of a new White House administration. And the AAEC would like to celebrate its 50th anniversary in D.C., where the group first met in 1957.

The AAEC held its 2002 convention this June in Washington, where it last met in 1987. The locale helped the group achieve one of its largest turnouts ever — more than 200 people, according to AAEC General Manager Wanda Nicholson. Stantis said the locale also helped put the AAEC budget in the black, partly because there were so many good speakers available locally that the organization didn’t need to spend a lot flying people in.

Speakers included U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Washington Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie, among others. During a reception, Ben Bradlee reminisced about working with the late Herblock. There were also panels on cartooning after Sept. 11, civil liberties after 9/11, cartooning during wartime, and more. Other panels featured eight cartoonists from the violence-wracked Mideast and U.S. editorial page editors.

Both Stantis and Plante described the convention as “substantive.”

***

Pa. Paper Cancels Coulter


But Her Client List Is Increasing

Ann Slanders or Ann Slandered?

When it comes to Ann Coulter — columnist and best-selling author of Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right — it depends on your perspective.

After the State College, Pa., Centre Daily Times dropped the conservative Coulter last week, more than 95% of the 4,000-plus e-mails it received supported the cancellation, according to Executive Editor Bob Unger.

“Maybe this is a hopeful sign that people are getting sick of extremists that pander to the worst in us,” Unger told E&P Online.

But Coulter also has many fans among editors and readers. Six papers joined Coulter’s list of more than 60 clients since Slander was published, said Universal Press Syndicate Director of Communications Kathie Kerr, adding that the Centre Daily Times is the only paper she knows to recently cancel the three-year Universal columnist.

And when an E&P Online story about the Centre Daily Times‘ action ran last week, 36 e-mails backing Coulter and only four backing the paper arrived in a day. Several called the 95%-plus figure “a lie,” but Unger said it’s accurate.

The e-mails to E&P Online ranged from nasty (“you socialist pig”) to earnest. “I love Ann Coulter,” one man wrote. “I can’t get enough of her. I only wish my local paper would carry her column and that I didn’t have to look for it on the Internet every week.”

A Brooklyn, N.Y., man wrote: “This was an attack on a popular conservative pundit because she is holding the irons to the feet of the liberal hypocrites and they can’t get the best of her any other way than to hold her to a different standard than their own.”

But Creators Syndicate media columnist Norman Solomon feels conservative columnists usually fare better than liberal ones. “The opinion-page terrain has a baseline from the mild left to the far right,” he said, adding that an exception such as Molly Ivins offers “a spoonful of witty sugar to help the left medicine go down.”

As for the progressive Solomon? “My column has been canceled out of some of the reputedly best newspapers in the country,” he said.

Coulter: Liberals Are ‘No Good’

The Coulter column angering the Centre Daily Times said Republicans are nicer than they should be to liberals. “I will say that there is only one thing wrong with liberals: they’re no good,” she wrote, later calling the Kennedys “a family of heroin addicts, statutory rapists, convicted and unconvicted female-killers, cheaters, bootleggers, and dissolute drunks.”

Unger responded in a column addressed to Coulter: “You’re fired. … You are either a hater or a hypocrite who calls names and spews enmity because you believe it will get your pretty face on television more or sell more copies of your best-selling books. … I’m not going to defend the Kennedy family or liberals. … But, Ann, you’re mean — vicious, really — which is why we do not believe that you in any way serve the public good.”

One Michigan man wrote E&P Online: “What did Ms. Coulter say about the Kennedys that wasn’t true and shouldn’t have been said by any other legitimate journalist who wasn’t a propagandist whore… ?”

Unger said his paper was also upset with a recent Coulter column about the “sexual history of some of [her] enemies — i.e., private citizens who dared to give money to the Democrats.”

The Centre Daily Times runs a mix of columnists, including Ivins and conservative Cal Thomas. Among its audience is a “pretty conservative readership outside of Penn State,” said Unger, adding that the 4,000 e-mails were local, from all 50 states, and from 20 countries.

E&P Online e-mailed questions to Coulter, but she didn’t respond as of Sept. 6.

***

Salter Loses ‘S.F. Chron’ Column


Paper Won’t Reinstate Her Despite Protests

The San Francisco Chronicle won’t reinstate longtime columnist Stephanie Salter despite a reported 1,200 e-mails from upset readers, a protest rally, and canceled subscriptions.

“Newspapers say they want to connect with readers,” Salter told E&P Online. “I would stack my connection with readers against any Op-Ed columnist.”

Salter, with the help of union protection, was transferred to a new Chronicle job as a reporter for the Sunday “Insight” section. But she feels bad for readers that no longer have a left-of-center, twice-weekly Op-Ed column like hers representing them in the paper. “They’re being dissed,” said Salter, who has been nationally distributed by the Hearst News Service and Scripps Howard News Service.

There have been reports that Chronicle Publisher John Oppedahl wanted Salter, 52, to stop writing her 16-year-old column because it was too liberal and feminist for his tastes. “I was told it didn’t resonate with him,” said Salter.

Chronicle Editorial Page Editor John Diaz said ideology was not a factor, noting that there are still liberal views in the paper’s opinion mix.

So why was Salter’s column ended? Diaz said the Chronicle is committed to making changes in various departments, including the one he heads. “Editorial pages have a tendency to become predictable,” he said. “We want to find new ways to become less predictable.”

Diaz, who said Salter has not been replaced with a specific columnist, did emphasize: “I like Stephanie very much personally and I respect her professionally. There is no question she had a readership. It was a difficult decision.”

Columnist Group Criticizes Paper

National Society of Newspaper Columnists President Mike Leonard is not pleased with what the paper did. “There are any number of disturbing elements to the Chronicle‘s decision to ax Stephanie Salter’s column, from the wisdom of the decision itself, to the callousness with which the Hearst Corp. dealt with a dedicated employee, to the company’s inability to be forthright in telling the public of its decision to terminate Stephanie’s column,” said The Herald-Times of Bloomington, Ind., writer. “If the Chronicle had decided to yank a cartoon strip and it received the kind of reader reaction it did when other news sources reported on the plan to eliminate Salter, I feel pretty confident that the newspaper would capitulate. It’s too bad that Stephanie didn’t get the kind of respect the Chronicle likely would have given ‘Nancy.'”

But Chronicle Director of Public Relations Joe Brown (to whom E&P Online was referred after it called Oppedahl’s office) said: “Newspapers can’t make decisions based on campaigns, threats, or boycotts. If they did, another group could come along the next week and use the same tactics.”

The exact number of canceled subscriptions could not be ascertained. The Aug. 28 rally drew about 130 people, according to a story in The Examiner of San Francisco.

Salter is not the first person to lose or stop a Chronicle column this year. During the winter, the paper ended Adair Lara’s 12-year-old feature column and reassigned her as a reporter covering generational issues. Is there a connection between the decisions? “All I know is that two high-profile women over 50 got columns killed,” said Salter.

Also, Chronicle/United Media commentator Chris Matthews wrote his farewell column Sept. 1 after a 15-year run. He could not be reached for comment, but Brown said: “It was his decision. He decided to increase his TV workload.”

Matthews, who recently had a serious bout with malaria, is the host of “Hardball” on MSNBC and is scheduled to start a Sunday-morning show this fall on NBC.

***

Custom Comic Page Offered


Online Service Launched By Uclick

A subscription site that enables Web users to customize their own comics page has been launched by uclick, a sibling company to Universal Press Syndicate.

The site (http://www.mycomicspage.com) offers choices of more than 100 comics and editorial cartoons at a cost of $9.95 per year. “Pricing a subscription service is always challenging,” said uclick Vice President Chris Pizey. “You want to make it affordable to encourage volume, but you can’t underprice the technology and the expertise it costs to provide the service in the first place.”

Users — of whom early signees receive free cartoon collection books — can review their custom page on the Web or receive it via a daily e-mail.

Comics can continue to be accessed in non-customized form via uclick’s free consumer site (http://www.ucomics.com
). Also, individual comics can still be e-mailed every day for free.

***

Advice-Givers Get Younger


KRT Is Distributing 15 Year Old

With the death of Ann Landers and the retirement of the original Abigail Van Buren, the average age of advice columnists had already dropped significantly this summer. Now, a 15 year old is writing a feature for newspapers.

He’s Alex Gough, whose twice-monthly “Ask Alex” started Sept. 5 in the KRTeens package distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services. Gough writes for SeasonsClub.com, a Web site aimed at adolescent and teen girls. He discusses topics such as how to break up with a boy, how to get a boy to hold hands, how to be friends rather than a girlfriend with a boy, etc.

KRTeens is also offering SeasonsClub.com’s “Answer Girl” on alternate weeks.

***

Et cetera …



The Getty Images News and Sport online photo service (http://www.gettyimages.com) has launched. Getty said it will cover more than 10,000 news and sports events in 2002. …

“Dear Prudence” advice columnist Margo Howard (of Slate.com and Creators Syndicate) and the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation started the Ann Landers Research Fund to fight the disease that killed Landers, Howard’s mother. …

Ohio sports columnist Walter Johns, who wrote for King Features Syndicate’s Central Press Association division for more than 30 years, died at age 91.




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