by Ted Rall
Thank you for making me president during the worst year for American editorial cartooning in history. That was awesome. You’re the best. I love you.
You all owe me drinks.
Seriously, I hope that we’ll look back at 2008-2009 as the year when our profession hit rock bottom and then began to recover. At least 27 of our friends and colleagues lost their jobs during that time; by most counts, that brings the number of full-time staff cartoonist positions below 40.
But August also brought about several developments, all positive, that were even more earth-shattering: The Chicago Tribune hired Scott Stantis away from The Birmingham News. The Tribune, which began the most recent wave of cartoonist layoffs by failing to replace Jeff MacNelly after he died in 2000, seems poised to lead the way back by promoting the importance of a high-profile editorial cartoonist position as part of its strategy to showcase a crusading opinion section. We’re told that Scott’s work may even appear on the front page of the print edition from time to time. Be still, my beating heart!
Maybe even better, The Birmingham News immediately announced its intention to hire a cartoonist to replace Scott. Even in tough times, the News understands that editorial cartooning is an important draw for readers.
The same holds true for Gannett and The Journal News in New York, which reversed its decision to layoff Pulitzer Prize-winner Matt Davies at the end of August.
Both the Tribune and Gannett’s decisions are sure to reverberate throughout the world of journalism. Here are papers that, despite their parent company’s dismal financial condition, see hard-hitting graphic commentary as part of the way to create a brighter future for itself. That is great news for us.
The closing of The Seattle Post-Intelligencer could easily have led to the cancellation of the Seattle convention. Instead, the AAEC seized the opportunity created by this crisis to build the basis for entirely new methods of putting on its conventions. The kind intercession of the Herblock Foundation not only allowed the 2009 convention to occur—the absence of which might have led to the beginning of the collapse of the association—but demonstrated that it is possible to put on a successful convention without a host newspaper. More than 115 people attended the convention, up significantly from the year before—this in the middle of the worst financial downturn since the founding of the AAEC.
We had fun in Seattle, but we also settled some long overdue business. For the first time ever, we are likely to end up with an Ethical Guidelines standard (on plagiarism, but other matters can be added in the future if need be). (Voting had not been tabulated at press time.) Old membership rolls, which included people who hadn’t paid their dues in many years (!), were ordered purged. Complaints about the quality of the work appearing on the association website, editorialcartoonists.com, were addressed in a meaningful way with a vote to have the Board of Directors review the work appearing on the site for quality control purposes and to continue a rigorous assessment of applying members’ work. There was also a general consensus that the AAEC should continue the policy I began of accentuating positive news about our profession while publicly downplaying negative news, such as layoffs.
Although we will still continue to look to newspapers for sponsorships in the years ahead, we finally recognized the need to explore alternative venues that will allow us to hold conventions when we can’t obtain one. Next year’s convention in Portland, Oregon, for example, may be held at Portland State University, which has extremely affordable on-campus hotel facilities. Another option being looked at for 2011 is the Poynter Institute in Florida.
As I turn things over to incoming president Rex Babin, who has lots of exciting ideas for next year’s convention, I want to thank you for your support and help throughout a challenging year that ended with an exciting sense of possibility.
P.S. I meant that part about owing me drinks.