Press Release: Black Ink Monday

EDITORIAL CARTOONISTS ANNOUNCE “BLACK INK MONDAY” TO PROTEST INDUSTRY LAYOFFS

Since Ben Franklin and colonial times, the editorial cartoon has been one of the most visible and popular parts of the daily paper. However, recent changes within the newsp

Over the last 20 years, the number of cartoonists on the staff of daily newspapers nationwide has been cut in half. In the last month alone, the Tribune Company (owner of the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and a half-dozen other prominent papers), has forced out well-known and award-winning cartoonists at the LA Times and Baltimore Sun, eliminating their positions entirely.

Now, editorial cartoonists are responding to these cuts, in the best way they know how — by throwing ink.

On Monday, Dec. 12, dozens of editorial cartoonists will band together for “Black Ink Monday,” unleashing their biting commentary on the current state of affairs in the newspaper business, with a specific emphasis on corporate downsizing.

These cartoons will be posted on editorialcartoonists.com (home of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists) and in various papers across the country. The AAEC intends to use the protest to draw attention to, not just the loss of individual jobs, but the wholesale weakening of the daily newspaper.

In an open letter to Tribune CEO Dennis FitzSimons, AAEC President Clay Bennett recently wrote: “There are few journalists in a newsroom who can define the tone and identity of a publication like an editorial cartoonist does. By discarding those who make a newspaper unique, you rob it of its character. By robbing a newspaper of its character, you steal its spirit.”

Bennett and several other cartoonists decided it was time to make a stand with Black Ink Monday. The cartoons will be published at editorialcartoonists.com on Monday, Dec. 12, 2005.

For more information on Black Ink Monday, or the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, please contact:

Clay Bennett
Christian Science Monitor, AAEC President
claybennett@earthlink.net

Rob Rogers
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, AAEC President-Elect
rob@robrogers.com

Bruce Plante
Chattanooga Times Free Press
bplante@timesfreepress.com

J.P. Trostle
news editor, editorialcartoonists.com
jape@nc.rr.com

***

Here’s my take on this:

One thing with the newspaper industry is that it’s still quite profitable. But increasing profit margins are demanded, now that the industry has become more corporate. The Tribune company wants its print division to be as profitable as its broadcast arm.

Hurting? In the third quarter of 2005, Tribune Company Publishing operating profit increased 29 percent to $170 million, up from $132 million in 2004. I’d love to have that kind of decline…

What comes first, with newspapers? Journalism, or profit? Both are unquestionably important, but which master do you serve first? Do you reverse shrinking circulations by gutting your product, and giving readers less?

Eliminating a local editorial cartoonist hits at the soul of a newspaper, and what a newspaper should be.

The newspapers seem to be cutting their own throats. in survey after survvey, editorial cartoons rank among the most popular features in any newspaper. But a paper that eliminates this position removes a powerful local voice from the community.

As a friend of mine pointed out, it’s a question of priorities. When circulation is falling and expenses are rising, yes, you’re going to cut employees. But you cut the first or second most popular journalist in the paper — the editorial cartoonist, as proven in poll after poll — last or second to last.

Cartoonists comprise a one-man (or woman) department. Fire one out of seven sports writers and you still have a sport section; fire your only cartoonist and your readers never see a local issue cartoon again.

The cartoonists will land on their feet. Most of them are incredibly talented. The losers will be the newspapers and, unfortunately, the public.

AAEC President Clay Bennett put it quite eloquently.

In light of recent announcements regarding the layoff of Michael Ramirez at the Los Angeles Times, and news of buyout offers to at least two other cartoonists at newspapers in the Tribune Company chain (including Kevin “KAL” Kallaugher at the Baltimore Sun, and Bob Englehart at the Hartford Courant), Clay sent the following to the CEO of Tribune, Dennis Fitzsimons.

November 22, 2005

Dennis FitzSimons
Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer
Tribune Company
435 North Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611

Mr. FitzSimons,

I write you on behalf of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists concerning the impending job cuts at the Tribune Company newspapers.

An early casualty of these austerity measures was editorial cartoonist Michael Ramirez, who lost his job in a round of cuts that will see some 85 positions eliminated at
the Los Angeles Times. The firing of a Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist was understandably met with disbelief, but that disbelief quickly turned to dismay when the Times announced it does not intend to fill the vacancy left by his dismissal.

That announcement served as an abrupt conclusion to a long and rich tradition of editorial cartooning at the LA Times, a tradition that not only helped earn the paper its world class reputation, but also earned its cartoonists five Pulitzer
Prizes.

The logic of Michael’s termination may be debatable, but the elimination of the editorial cartooning position is not. There are few journalists in a newsroom who can define the tone and identity of a publication like an editorial cartoonist does.
By discarding those who make a newspaper unique, you rob it of its character. By robbing a newspaper of its character, you steal its spirit.

The fate of several editorial cartoonists now hangs in the balance as other newspapers within your company look to make staff cuts. We hope that further reductions can
be achieved without the loss of any of the outstanding cartoonists that you currently employ. The sacrifice of even one of them would be a disservice to their readers, a detriment to their newspaper, and ultimately regrettable to the Tribune Company itself.

Sincerely,
Clay Bennett
President
Association of American Editorial Cartoonist

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