Ink Goes Digital: Editorial cartoons find new life online.

Author:Tornoe, Rob

By nearly every measure, it's been a brutal year for American journalism.

More than 3,100 journalists have been laid off in 2019, putting the industry on pace for the worst job losses since the recession of 2009. The pain inflicted on the industry have been widespread, impacting newspaper companies (Gannett, McClatchy, GateHouse Media), digital media companies (BuzzFeed, Vice Media, Verizon Media Group) and even cable news channels like CNN.

But 2019 has been a particularly brutal year for editorial cartoonists, a once prized commodity for news organizations being quickly pushed into oblivion. It's estimated that less than 30 full-time staff cartoonists exist at media companies in the U.S., down from nearly 100 just 10 years ago and 2,000 at the turn of the last century (it's worth noting I also draw cartoons for Editor & Publisher and the Philadelphia Inquirer, to name a few).

The most recent victim is Michael de Adder, a longtime cartoonist for the Brunswick News newspaper group in Canada whose contract was ceremoniously canceled at the end of June after a cartoon he drew mocking President Trump's handling of the migrant crisis at the border went viral on social media (though the company denies it ended its relationship with de Adder over the cartoon).

De Adder is far from alone. In May, Gatehouse said goodbye to three long-time cartoonists at newspapers recently purchased by the hedge fund-owned newspaper chain: Nate Beeler of the Columbus Dispatch, Rick McKee of the A ugusta Chronicle, and Mark Streeter of the Morning News in Savannah, Ga. The New York Times killed all cartoons (including the work of longtime contributor Patrick Chappatte) in its international edition after an illustration playing on anti-Semitic tropes was printed in the paper, leading to a wave of criticism. The Arizona Republic laid-off Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Steve Benson in January after 38 years at the paper.

Obviously, the decision to shed cartoonists is mostly driven by economics, with declining revenue at just about every newspaper spelling doom for roles not considered essential to the company's digital future. But cartoons remain as popular as ever thanks to social media and the internet, and in an era where digital subscriptions remain a key focus of a successful digital strategy, they remain an overlooked asset in terms of engagement and developing brand loyalty.

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