WE COME HERE TODAY not to bury the print edition of Newsweek, but to praise it. Particularly one part of it:
The passing of the “Perspectives” page — that roundup of newsmaker quotes and political-cartoon quips — has marked the end of an era.
When it was announced Thursday that the octogenarian Newsweek will go Web-only at year’s end, the print death underscored just how thoroughly the Internet now offers up what once was provided by so very few outlets, and in such small portions.
Even just two decades ago, if you were an aspiring young cartoonist, you could find comic strips and comic books galore in print — but seeking out a cross-section of that week’s editorial cartoons could become an outright quest.
Some newspapers, like The Post, would publish a weekend roundup. And occasionally, short-lived attempts were made to curate the cartoons in cheap-and-quick, subscription-only formats. But much before the mid-’90s — before GoComics.com and Cagle.com and all manner of political-cartoon portals — one of the few places of national prominence you could find weekly cartoons was on Newsweek’s “Perspectives” page.
Granted, the page would only feature a handful of cartoons, and depending on the editor, the chosen cartoons sometimes favored topical gags that skirted being overly controversial. But week in, week out, you could reliably find a great Luckovich or Peters, Rogers or Kelley cartoon that nailed it.
“My guess is that ‘Perspectives’ was the best read page in Newsweek, and for good reason,” Steve Kelley tells Comic Riffs. “The weekly collection of noteworthy quotes and occasional jokes provided an ideal canvas on which to display what really mattered: the political cartoons.”
In a twist that reflects Newsweek’s fortunes, Kelley just lost his job as a staff political cartoonist when the New Orleans Times-Picayune decided to jettison its print edition four days a week, spending less on print and it steers more readers to its digital presence.
One veteran political cartoonist who has benefited from the rise of online journalism, Politico’s Matt Wuerker, recalls to Comic Riffs those days of limited outlets.
“Like a lot of cartoonists, I paid close attention to it in the olden days,” Wuerker, who won the editorial-cartooning Pulitzer this year, says of Perspectives. “It was one of the more prominent national roundups. Perspectives and Periscope and the Week in Review in the NYT were the three biggies, and were only as good as the editors who made the pick.
“They had some stretches where they had a brave array of humor and styles, but a lot of the time they played it safe with a lot of pretty bland fare,” continues Wuerker, who recently became president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (which last month held its Festival of the Political Cartoon in Washington).
“They didn’t use much MacNelly and even less Oliphant and Conrad, the cartoons tended to be more gag-oriented,” echoes Steve Breen, the two-time Pulitzer winner at the U-T San Diego. “Still, they ran a lot of great ones by people like [Rob] Rogers, [Don] Wright, [Jim] Borgman and Luckovich that were a treat to read.”
“I used to love the Perspectives page, and not only because they’d run my cartoons,” Mike Luckovich, the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Pulitzer-winning cartoonist, tells Comic Riffs. “I enjoyed seeing the three cartoons that highlighted the previous week’s events, plus the quotes. I was sorry when the new team came in and ended that. That page was one of their most popular.”
“It was a big thing to get printed in Newsweek ... ,” Mike Peters, the Pulitzer-winning cartoonist of the Dayton Daily News, tells Comic Riffs. “It meant everybody in the country would see your work. Later, Newsweek would put four cartoons together on their Perspectives page. There wouldn’t be a newsstand or an airport on a Monday that I wouldn’t stop and check to see if they used one of my cartoons. If I was in that week, I would give my self a little smile; if I wasn’t in that week, I’d go home and kick the dog.”
Breen, like Comic Riffs, remembers seeking out that page while in school.
“I always loved the Perspectives page,” Breen tells Comic Riffs. “I remember when I was a freshman in college, I would go to the library and sit in a quiet spot in the third floor with stack of old bound editions of Newsweek, studying the Perspectives pages.
“A huge thrill was getting my own cartoon on the collapse of the Soviet Union [published there] a year later.”
And now, a couple of decades later, it’s the ever-evolving shift to digital news distribution that can cast into the high relief just how quaintly “horse-and-buggy” those times were for editorial cartoonists.
“It’s funny now to remember how hard it was pre-Internet to see cartoons from around the country,” Wuerker says. “You had to wait days, if not weeks to see what people in other cities were doing in their cartoons ... and even then in the case of Newsweek and Time, it was just five or six at most.
“It’s amazing how we take for granted now our instant access to hundreds of cartoons from everywhere on the planet, served up to our eyeballs for free.”
Peters also acknowledges the dramatic change.
“I’m sorry that Newsweek will not be in print form anymore,” he says. “I’m sorry that younger cartoonists will not have that joy of opening that magazine and seeing their work. It was a great time. But the Internet will offer so many new exciting experiences for cartoonists.
“I know this is a sad time for print, but cartoon opportunities ahead for the Internet — we’re just scratching the surface.”
Even as cartoonists draw closer to those new horizon lines, the hard-cpy newsmagazine is mourned.
“I’m going to miss Newsweek in print,” Luckovich says. “Even though it covered news and politics, there was always a sense of fun about it.”