Editorial Cartoonists Essential To Editorial Pages

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Editorial Cartoonists Essential To Editorial Pages

by Reed Anfinson
Publisher, Swift County Monitor-News


It has always been difficult to convince people that the editorial page of a newspaper is meant for opinions. Many think that it should be neutral on issues, but it is a place for the expression about what we observe and think about what is going on in our community, state and nation.

It looks at the challenges we face, and at how competently or poorly they are being addressed. It is meant to hold our leaders accountable. It is meant to make readers think more deeply about issues. It is meant to give us perspectives about the way others in the community think and feel.

It is important that we regularly remind our readers that our editorial page is open to all in our community. We want to hear what you have to say on issues – that is what our letters to the editor are all about. It doesn’t matter whether we agree or disagree with your point of view – our community is stronger when there is a spirited dialogue taking place.

One of the ways in which opinions are expressed on the editorial page is through the cartoon we carry each week. Generally, we get two or three cartoons weekly from syndicated cartoonist Bruce Plante and pick one for the current week’s edition of the Monitor-News. 

There are weeks we have looked at the political cartoons we have received and wondered if we wanted to print any of them. We don’t agree with the tone or content of all the cartoons we see, but then, we know printing them provides a different perspective to ours so we run it. We also know it might cause those who have pigeonholed us into a Democratic or Liberal slot to think we aren’t quite so narrow in our thinking.

Plante’s cartoons take on the political leaders and challenges of the day, giving us a simple, graphic way of looking at them. They can be amusing at times, but they can also make powerful, disturbing statements.

While readers might be inclined to believe that Plante always bashes the Republicans, that isn’t true. He is an equal opportunity critic who generally goes after whoever is in power. We recently ended eight years of the presidency of Barrack Obama. He was a frequent subject of all political cartoonists. Now Donald Trump is president and is providing cartoonists with plenty of material on a regular basis.

Political cartoonists have been around since the founding of the United States. It was Benjamin Franklin’s “Join or Die” cartoon, depicting a snake segmented into 13 parts representing the 13 colonies, that is thought to be the first political cartoon printed in an American newspaper.

But after more than 230 years of being carried in newspapers, political cartoonists are falling on hard times, and not just because many newspapers are struggling in the face of internet competition. (Not competition for news content, we still are the core source for over 90 to 95 percent news people read, but for advertising dollars.)

“Many small newspapers are dropping their editorial pages entirely,” Cartoonist Daryl Cagle wrote in a recent column. Cagle also runs a syndicate distributing the works of other cartoonists to newspapers around the country. “Some editors tell me that editorial pages ‘only make readers angry’ and ‘don’t bring in advertising income.’” He could have added that they make subscribers unhappy and they cancel their subscriptions, or don’t renew them.

Another reason a growing number of newspapers are dropping their editorial cartoons is that our increasingly polarized society has less tolerance for differing opinions. We want only those points of view that agree with our own. President Trump has pushed the American people even farther apart by his constant attacks on the news media, particularly newspapers, as being “the enemy of the people.”

“Newspaper editorial cartoons are disappearing when they are most needed,” Cagle says. “This plague is accelerating as conservative, timid or budget-strapped newspaper editors are becoming more vocal in pushing back against cartoons.”

While many might have the impression that the majority of newspapers in America are liberal, that view would be wrong. There are about 1,400 daily newspapers in the country with those in the largest population centers generally more liberal. But the smaller dailies and the more than 6,000 weekly publications that are spread across the nation tend to be more conservative.

Conservative publications have shown themselves to be less accepting of different points of view than liberal newspapers. “Liberal leaning newspapers often run two cartoons, from the left and the right. They do the same with columnists, running contrasting conservative and liberal columns.  Most conservative editors prefer to print only conservative content,” he says. If they can’t find the conservative cartoons they seek, they simply drop them entirely.

He goes on to say that with political cartoonists it isn’t a matter of being liberal or conservative, it is simply a matter of the material they have to work with – who is in power.

“Editorial cartooning is a negative art,” Cagle explains. “Supportive cartoons are lousy cartoons. I don’t know of any professional cartoonists who would describe themselves as ‘pro-Trump,’ but I also don’t know cartoonists who would say that they were ‘pro-Obama,’ ‘pro-Bush’ or ‘pro-Clinton.’ A good editorial cartoonist dislikes everybody. We attack whoever is in power.”

Attack may be a little strong. What cartoonists do is point out flaws, contradictions, hypocrisy, and lack of common sense in government officials and government policies. They ridicule politicians of both sides when they can’t work together to get things done.

Cartoonists bring an insight to issues in a quickly viewed image that might take a whole column or editorial to express. The best cartoons hold a mirror to society and challenge us to change if we don’t like what we see.

Again, we have a participatory democracy, so please write us with your thoughts.
(Some cartoons are timeless. While most who see it will think it refers to the 2016 election, the one at the top of the page was drawn by Plante in 2013.)

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