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March 25, 2009

Layoff Update

If you're reading this at work — congratulations! You're one of the few who hasn't yet been touched by the nationwide “contraction” that is reshaping our industry. Nearly a dozen cartoonists took buyouts, got laid off or otherwise saw long-time positions eliminated over the winter.

Ed Stein

Ed Stein CartoonEd Stein wrapped up a 31-year career at The Rocky Mountain News rather suddenly, when the paper ceased publishing on short notice in February.

Stein told Alan Gardner at the Daily Cartoonist that it's the only daily paper he's worked for and the only career he wanted to have.ï¾ 

Stein's been the Rocky Mountain News' editorial cartoonist since 1978. He was the winner of both the Fischetti Award in 2006 and the Scripps Howard National Journalism Award in 1999.ï¾ 

“It's been a great run and I've loved it and I'm going to miss it,” Stein told Thanh Truong at KUSA.

During a meeting of the Rocky Mountain News staff, when it was announced that the newspaper was going to shut down, Stein was thinking about his future and the final cartoon he would pen.

It featured a man in his bathrobe, a cup of coffee in hand, standing at his front steps. The caption above him: “Where's my Rocky?”

“I had a couple of different ideas. One of them was an empty news box with just black inside, but I wanted a person there, I wanted that personal touch, a sense of somebody really missing something,” Stein said.

He will not miss his cubicle, he added, but will certainly miss the people who worked at the Rocky.ï¾ 

For 11 years, he also drew Denver Square for the Rocky Mountain News, a cartoon about a family living in Denver. Through the family, Stein would cover events happening in the community and the impact they would have on the characters.

“After the Columbine shootings I did a series of cartoons in my comic strip. I think they really helped people focus their feelings and thoughts, it was cathartic for me as well,” Stein said.

There have been so many moments and events that Stein has covered and portrayed through his cartoons, so many he couldn't pinpoint a favorite cartoon — but one did stick with him.

“[Y]ou know I did one during the Ethiopian famine years ago ... I did a cartoon as a fundraiser; $125,000 later we contributed a lot of money to charity and hopefully save some lives,” said Stein.

The paper, however, could not be saved and after the official word was sent through the newsroom Stein started drawing the final cartoon. It took him only about an hour to complete it.

He says it's both the easiest and hardest cartoon he's ever drawn.ï¾ 

In a letter to readers that appeared with the cartoon on his blog, Stein wrote: “Well, folks, this is the last cartoon I'll draw for the Rocky Mountain News. I've had a wonderful run for the last 31 years, producing more than 8,000 drawings. It's the career I dreamed of having when I was a kid, and it's been more rewarding than I ever could have imagined. I've had the great good fortune over the years of toiling for editors who appreciated my skills and who believed in the editorial freedom a cartoonist needs to do the best work, even when they disagreed with my opinion. I've worked with more talented journalists than I can possibly name. I'm especially grateful to the many loyal readers of the Rocky for having given my long career meaning. Thank you for your comments, kind and critical, over the years. It is you who have kept the discussion, so vital for a vibrant democracy to flourish, alive all these years. I will miss hearing from you.

“Although my work here is finished, I will continue to cartoon for my syndicate. [United Features]. I'll be posting those cartoons on my new website at edsteinink.com. If you wish to contact me — and I hope you will — my email address is edstein2@gmail.com.”

On his final day with the Rocky, Stein gave a brief interview to Alan Gardner.

Alan Gardner: What will you miss most?

Ed Stein: Having a conversation with the readers everyday. Having the ability to say something new and the readers respond.

I believe in journalism. That's the great sadness of watching newspapers dying. This country is strong because we have an argument built into the system and that takes place in the press. I've been blessed to have had a voice in that argument. That's what I'm really mourning.

AG: What's next?

ES: I'm still trying to figure that out. I've been trying to figure that out in the last few months. I'm hoping to continue to draw cartoons for a living.

AG: You've mentioned that all cartoonists are at some level writers. Have you entertained that option, and if so what kind of writing?

ES: Most cartoonists are writers first, artists second. I write science fiction for my own pleasure, but the natural progression for me would be doing corporate communications for a non-profit or something.

AG: You drew Denver Square for 11 years, I'm sure that fit into that community dialog you've mentioned.

ES: I miss drawing that strip. If the (Denver) Post wanted to pick it up, I'd do it in a heartbeat. I haven't spoken to them about it or anything.

AG: Any thought of taking it to a syndicate?

ES: The issue of taking it into syndication is that it's tied to newspapers. I'm sure newspapers will survive in some form and editorial cartooning with it, but doing a syndicated strip isn't the best use of my time right now.ï¾ 

John Branch

A few days before the Rocky folded, The San Antonio Express-News quietly laid off 135 of their employees, 75 from their newsroom — including cartoonist John Branch. His last day will be March 20.

Branch has been at the Express-News since 1981, when he landed his “first real job.” Like many of the cartoonists that have been sent packing this last year, he's trying to take it all in and figure out what to do next. He told the Daily Cartoonist he feels he's fortunate that he's been at the paper for so long that the severance package is sufficient that he doesn't feel the need to quickly run out and get a job at Wal-Mart.

Over a 28 year period Branch estimates that he's drawn some 5,400 cartoons.

Brian Duffy

Brian Duffy, who has been the staff cartoonist for the Des Moines Register since 1983, was let go as part of the nationwide layoff of Gannett employees in early December. It was especially notable because the Register was one of the last newspapers in the country to run its editorial cartoonist on the front page [the other was Corky Trinidad, who died in February. See his obit on page 18.]

Duffy and the Register's parting of the ways began bad and just got uglier in the new year.

When news of the layoff broke, Alan Gardner at the Daily Cartoonist reported: “Duffy was escorted out of the newspaper's building after learning that his job was being eliminated in a cost cutting (slashing?) move by the paper's parent company Gannett. He was not allowed to return to his office to collect his personal belongings [including artwork], he said in an interview with the local television station. Brian worked for the newspaper for 25 years, and as he recollects, never missed a deadline.”

Laura Hollingsworth, the president and publisher of The Des Moines Register, spoke to Jason Hancock of the Iowa Independent about the decision to eliminate Duffy's position from the paper, and with it the century-long tradition of a front-page editorial cartoon.

“Brian did a tremendous job here for 25 years,” Hollingsworth said. “I can just tell you that the editorial cartoon along with 40 other things that were part of our tradition, we had to make a lot of decisions that encompassed thinking through all of those things.”

Readers reacted by writing letters and canceling their newspaper subscriptions. Cityview gossip columnist Civic Skinny reported that since the announcement of Duffy's dismissal, the paper had 700 canceled subscriptions. At the newspaper's annual subscription rate of $208 ($17.39 a month), this means The Register lost nearly $150,000 in annual revenue.

The layoff drew the attention of local media: the next day a local TV station ran an interview with the cartoonist, allowing him to air his grievances with his former employer (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=griO6QuMnMY&eurl=), and the Des Moines alternative newsweekly, Cityview, gave him the space to run a ?farewell' cartoon. Within a few weeks, reported Hancock, Duffy had been picked up by Cityview and is now providing them a weekly cartoon.

Then, in February, Duffy learned the Register planned to donate his original art to University of Iowa.

“They have the originals all sitting in my old office,” Duffy told KCCI. “The editor felt that I wasn't important enough, or my work wasn't important enough, to keep me at the newspaper, yet she wants to keep my legacy alive by donating all of my work to the University of Iowa,” said Duffy.

“I have no problem donating a large body of work to the University of Iowa. In fact, I'd love to do that.”

But, he added, he wants to do it on his terms, not on behalf of the newspaper that shooed him out the door.

Register Editor Carolyn Washburn issued this statement: “It's not about withholding things from Brian. The Des Moines Register paid him for his very excellent work, but we hold the copyright for the work our staff produces. We're trying to do the right thing and make sure these unique pieces of work are protected for Iowans and available to the public.”

“These are all personal things to me that I have in essence lost,” said Duffy. “I'm not giving up on trying to get my originals back. I'm going to fight very hard to get those.”

On February 24, Mike Peterson posted on the Daily Cartoonist that the newspaper considers the cartoons “work for hire,” which would give the Register full rights. Duffy noted that the cartoons have been tagged with both his and the newspaper's copyright notice.ï¾ 

Two days later, President Ted Rall wrote an open letter to the Editor of the Register on behalf of the AAEC.

“These original drawings represent an artist's life work, and while newspapers pay for its production, they do so in order to publish the work on its editorial page— not to possess each piece as artwork.

“Mr. Duffy is understandably attached to his quarter-century's worth of drawings, and may wish to archive some of them for his children. Others he may want to donate to charities or sell at galleries. Regardless, they offer him a potential source of revenue after retirement, and reasonable people would assume that he should have them.

“Although your reported plan to donate Brian's cartoons to the University of Iowa is commendable, cynics may charge that your purpose is to cash in on Brian's firing by taking a tax write-off for a sizable donation.”

Duffy has since gotten a lawyer and is considering legal action to retain the rights to his cartoons.

Rob Tornoe

Rob Tornoe, who was hired last April as a full time editorial cartoonist for Politicker.com, the multi-state political site, was laid off mid-December along with several other employees, reported Alan Gardner.

A few days later, in an e-mail interview with E&P, Tornoe discussed the layoff and the prospects for editorial cartoonists in the current economy.

“I feel fine with [the layoff from Politicker]. From the start, I knew we were trying something new, and that I'd be the first and only staff cartoonist in the country to work exclusively online. Of course, I was hopeful that it would've lasted longer than it did, but the economy tanked, and they had to reduce.

“What also helps me is I'm relatively young, and I keep my hands in a lot of pots in order to make me more economically viable. Maybe a newspaper won't have a staff cartoonist, but they may hire a page designer that can do cartoons for the paper. It may mean doing more work, but that's coming from the guy that did 15 cartoons a week! The jobs where a cartoonist gets to draw five cartoons a week and that's it, I think are coming to a close.”

When asked what he thought about the current prospects for others in your field, Tornoe replied, “Well, the economy is cyclical, so I'm sure media companies will bounce back .... [A]s more and more young editors who are tech-savvy and understand the importance of visual journalism take over key positions in the newspaper industry, their visual sense will lend itself to more cartooning opportunities and unique ways to tell stories. Until then, cartoonists will have to bide their time, do whatever work they can on the sideï¾  — ï¾  and eat Ramen noodles.”

Within a few weeks Tornoe himself bounced back — a little. E&P Online had tapped him to do a weekly cartoon on the media and journalism for their blog, and he had moved his reporting on cartooning news to Daryl Cagle's site.

Ben Sargent

Ben Sargent, who has been the editorial cartoonist for the Austin American-Statesman for the last 35 years, has opted to take what he described as a “pretty generous buyout.” His last day with the paper will be March 13th. His wife, who is the paper's longtime TV critic, is also taking a buyout.

Sargent says that management has expressed interest in buying cartoons on a contractual basis, but nothing has been finalized. Sargent is a Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist, taking the prize in 1982, and was a finalist in 2001 and 2002. His cartoons are currently syndicated through Universal Press.

In an e-mail to colleagues, Sargent wrote: “This is an exciting change in some ways, but wrenching in others; I've worked in a newsroom since I was 18 years old, met Diane in this place, and I've been in this particular job for 35 years. But it's been a great ride; I've worked with so many great people, and it was a pleasure and a privilege to have been part of newspapering in its glory days.

“And of course, I have a particularly special place in my heart for all of you that I've shared the cartoonist's trade with. I look forward to keeping my hand in a while longer and to seeing you all this summer and in the years to come.”

Bill Garner

Bill Garner, the editorial cartoonist for The Washington Times, is the latest staff cartoonist to lose his job, reported Rob Tornoe on February 16. His position was eliminated as part of a reshuffling the editorial department went through back in January. His last cartoon for the newspaper was dated January 20.

At the time, all 12 editorial page and commentary employees were required to reapply for their jobs.

“Every job was eliminated because every job was changed in its character,” Richard Amberg, associate publisher and general manager, and acting interim editorial page editor, told E&P

Garner knew that the economy was tough and that cuts were coming. He just didn't think they were coming his way.

The management of The Washington Times brought in “professional headhunters” to deal with the declining revenues and drops in circulation that are affecting most newspapers throughout the country.

“They were talking hot air up my ass for months when they knew all along they were going to be shoving me through the door,” Garner told E&P.

“The whole time, I was being told, ?Hey Bill, keep up the great work Bill, good stuff Bill',” Garner said. “Then they told me that my job was being eliminated, and that I had a week before I got my walking papers.”

According to Garner, the paper will look towards the Wall Street Journal's model of not using editorial cartoons on their opinion pages, leaning instead to provide original commentary versus purchasing syndicated content.

Garner, who spent over 20 years at The Times, is now working on continuing his cartoons through new outlets. He's sent samples of his work to Creators Syndicate, and is waiting to hear back. In the meantime, he's devoting time to painting and just taking one step at a time.

“I understand completely, and there are no bad feelings about the situation because it's a business, that's the way it goes,” Garner said.

“You've just got to roll with the punches.”

Patrick O'Connor

Eight days into the new year, Patrick O'Connor saw his position cut at the LA Daily News, after eight and a half years at the paper.

As he has been doing all too often lately, Alan Gardner posted an ?exit interview' with the cartoonist on his web site.

AG: Did you have any advance notice?

PO'C: Last year the Daily News fired 22 people from the newsroom including one of my best friends and its Institutional Memory, letters editor Mike Tetreault. Since then it seems the layoffs have come every month like clockwork. At the same time the company jacked up its health insurance premium to $2,000. Last week I received an email saying the company will not be matching its employees 401k accounts for all of 2009. A lot people found other jobs and jumped ship. Working at the Daily News has been like living with an incompetent, terminally ill relative. I think all of this, coupled with massive layoffs at every other news organization and a constant parade of unemployed editorial cartoonists, would constitute as having “advance notice.”

AG: Did they offer any compensation?

PO'C: The company does offer a severance. It's supposed to be one week for every year worked but they cap that at six weeks. Could you imagine having worked 20 years or more at a place and on your way out the door they give you six weeks severance? I was horrified when I looked at my check — the government withheld nearly HALF in taxes. That's something you don't hear about on the way out.

AG: What are your plans now?

PO'C: Well, I can't retire for another 35 years so I'm going to have to find something to do. I'll pick up some freelance work where I can and get to a few projects I've been working on. I've always been a cartoonist— it's in my bones. So, that doesn't change. I'll always use my talent and ability to get by.

AG: Is there anything you'd like to add, or say?

PO'C: When I was sixteen years old I emailed Wiley Miller telling him I wanted to be an editorial cartoonist and asked for his advice. He replied with a simple answer: “Editorial cartooning is dead.” This early warning, along with many others (Chip Bok: “Don't get into this for the money.”), would not dissuade me from my passion for the craft of editorial cartooning. All I wanted was to be was a staff political cartoonist and soon enough I was hired at the Daily News and was drawing five cartoons a week. Later, I ran into Wiley at a convention and told him what he had said to me 10 years earlier. “Editorial cartooning is still dead,” he replied.

After all I have witnessed in the last year or so, inside this profession and outside of it, I'm finally ready to admit Wiley was right.


Layoffs aren't just an American problem. On December 17, the following was posted on the blog of the Association of Canadian Editorial Cartoonists:

“The depressing news of job layoffs of American editorial cartoonists we Canadians have become all too accustomed to reading about in recent years has unfortunately struck closer to home. Today, Thomas ?TAB' Boldt learned the devastating news that he has been cut from Sun Media as part of a major labour reduction that'll see its workforce reduced by 10%, amounting to a total of 600 being laid off.ï¾ 

“TAB began drawing editorial cartoons for the Calgary Sun in 2001. For the past 2 and half years his work appeared across the major Sun Media dailies in Ottawa, Toronto, London, Calgary, Edmonton, and Winnipeg.

“Sue Dewar, Tim Dolighan, and Andy Donato are unaffected by the cuts.

“Asked what he's going to do in the future, he replied, I just talked to [fellow cartoonist] John Larter, we'll meet and cry into our (cheap) beer...'”

Bill Schorr

Editorial cartoonist Bill Schorr, whose cartoons are distributed to newspapers four times each week by United Feature Syndicate, decided to retire in March.

Schorr began his career in 1973 at The Kansas City Star, reported E&P. In 1978, he moved to The Los Angeles Herald Examiner, where he remained for nearly a decade before returning to the Star. Schorr was staff cartoonist for New York's Daily News from 1997 to 2001.

ï¾ Schorr is a two-time winner of The National Cartoonists Society Award for Best Editorial Cartoon, having received that honor in 2008 and in 1993. In 1993, he won the Fischetti Editorial Cartoon Competition, and he was named the top editorial cartoonist of the year for 1992 by the National Press Foundation.

In Schorr's stead, United Feature Syndicate is offering cartoons by another award winner, Bill Day, political cartoonist for the Memphis Commercial Appeal.ï¾ 

Other cutbacks

Thanks to consolidation, the Landmark in Holden, Mass is now cartoon free.ï¾ 

“After 26 years of freelancing weekly cartoons, I was told I could no longer do cartoons for The Landmark,” wrote Don Landgren in an e-mail.

In this case, however, the villain was his own paper, The Worcester Telegram & Gazette, where Landgren has been full-time for the past 25 years.

“In October the The Landmark Corporation purchased the alternative weekly in Worcester. The Worcester T&G felt that my doing cartoons for their even closer competitor as a problem and finally forced me to stop drawing for The Landmark.ï¾ 

“I pleaded my case that I should now be drawing for the Telegram & Gazette and their new planned slew of weeklies. I offered to add those duties to my current schedule. The publisher and editor of the Telegram & Gazette made no promises and I still wait to see if I'll draw for them.

“They nixed adding to the three cartoons that Hitch draws a week for the daily, because 'it wouldn't be fair to him since he was cut back from five a week years ago.'”

And finally, here's an update to Glenn “Marty” Stein being laid-off by La Prensa in August 2008 after 7-plus years. Stein now believes he was let go after refusing to sign either the new “Freelance Agreement” or “License Agreement” pertaining to copyright when his paper's parent company, impreMedia, relaunched its website.

“I feel my lay-off was at least in part due to my not signing either of these 'agreements', thus demonstrating my determination to retain complete control over my creative works and my name,” said Stein.

— Sources: The Daily Cartoonist, E&P, Rob Tornoe, Rocky Mountain News (RIP), KUSA, Cityview, KCCI, ACEC, Daryl Cagle. JP Trostle contributed to this article.