Just as I was discussing the inability of editors to either judge cartoons or find someone on their staff who can, a stunning example comes to the fore.
The editorial page editor of the Jacksonville Florida Times-Union has begun putting pretty pictures on his Sunday editorial page in place of editorial cartoons.
He explained the decision Sept 8 and asked readers for feedback:
Editorial cartoons have a way of getting under the skin of readers. Even though cartoons are designed to be full of exaggeration and hyperbole, readers are still prone to become easily offended by them.
So during the past few Sundays, we’ve been running news photos instead of more cartoons — and we’ve been picking the photos based on their uplifting tone.
What do you think?
Would you like to see more photos rather than the cartoons?
Later, he outlined the problem:
(S)ince the election of Donald Trump, I have had difficulty finding balance. Cartoonists love to poke fun at people in power, and Trump is a cartoonist’s dream. Even Trump’s tweets are like cartoon bubbles.
So why all the negative cartoons on Trump? That’s what cartoonists are drawing.
One complication is that the Times-Union does not have a staff cartoonist, so we have little control. Sometimes all the cartoonists in the country are drawing on the same subject.
Historic note: The Times-Union had an award-winning, well-known staff cartoonist for nearly a quarter of a century, Ed Gamble, until 2010, when they laid him off from his part-time job.
Ed is still around and still drawing, and, moreover, Mike Lester is a Jacksonville resident, so it's not like the paper couldn't find someone who might perhaps occasionally skew a little towards the conservative side.
Moreover, Clark wouldn't have to actually hire them. Simply knowing they exist would make it fairly easy to find their work at King Features for Gamble and Washington Post Group or Universal for Lester.
And he does know they exist: Not only has the paper itself written about Lester's presence, but, whether or not he broke the bad news, Clark was editorial page editor when Gamble was let go.
As for offending the delicate sensibilities of Jacksonville's vocal conservatives, here are their current cartoons:
Clark has begun writing for a highly conservative website launched by Morris Communications, which owned the Times-Union until very recently.
Therefore, I would suggest that his contention -- that, because cartoonists tend to address the same issue, it's impossible to find balance -- is proof of my contention that editors don't understand cartoons.
They just don't get it, do they?*
For those of us who do understand cartoons, it's hard to see how you could look at the mass of cartoons about the Las Vegas shootings or the recent decision to allow companies to deny birth control coverage and not see a variety of points of view.
So anyway, Mike Clark began running pretty pictures of uplifting things on the Sunday editorial page, and asked readers how they felt, but then he ran into a problem.
So I asked readers about cartoons. Should we run fewer of them? I only heard from people who aren’t easily offended.
“I love the editorial cartoons even if I don’t agree with them or even if I am offended by them. They are a way of presenting a point of view succinctly and visually. People who object to them because they are offended need to put their big boy pants on. Free speech is not a right not to be offended.” — Judy Jameson, Ponte Vedra.
” Keep the political cartoons! It takes genius to draw them, and they say more than a thousand words.” — Julie Mason.
“I vote emphatically for cartoons. It’s a longstanding tradition and the minority with complaints is always the most vocal.” — Jack Knee.
“Cartoons are great — sometimes the only uplifting thing in the news!” — Pat Hannan, Atlantic Beach.
“Please keep the political cartoons! We need some humor during these times. To make it fair, you could put cartoons favoring both political parties, so nobody can complain, and everybody can be happy.” — Gladys Miller.
Clark carefully considered the feedback and made a decision:
I am going to continue with cartoons daily, continue with news photos on Sunday OPED and consider using a news photo rather a cartoon for Monday’s editorial page.
And, really, that's fair: Let the people provide feedback, and then give them a little more of what they told you they don't want.
That way, you can not only avoid making your product more attractive to them, but you can insult them directly.
This approach is not all that unusual in the newspaper industry, where the current motto seems to be "Bad food, and such small portions."
They just don't get it, do they?*
The depressing part is not that "you can't make this shit up."
It's that you don't have to.
About that top cartoon
The cartoon leading off today's rant is by H.J. Ford, one of his many pieces illustrating Andrew Lang's classic retelling of fairy and folk tales from around the world.
That one is for Hans Christian Andersen's "Blockhead Hans," which you can read (or listen to) here if you'd like. It's a familiar, funny tale of the third, overlooked son triumphing, but, of course, my affection is that Andersen worked in a little hostility towards the newspapers of his day and, in particular, their editors.
But Lang told many stories and Ford illustrations ranged from the familiar, like
to the more obscure, like this Japanese tale of a girl whose dying mother, in order to save her from sexual harassment, made her take a vow to conceal her beauty under a wooden helmet, and
this Romanian story about a baby snatched from her cradle by an eagle and raised in a nest in the forest, as well as the "Green Monkey," seen above, a French story.