MY BIAS: Is a newsroom’s political cartoonist a ‘journalist’? A Poynter chat sheds light

I MUST ADMIT TO a bias — a presumed and skewed view in my thinking: Without reservation, I consider the Newspaper Political Cartoonist to be a capital-J “Journalist.”

Apparently, we are far from near-consensus on this classification.

On Monday, Comic Riffs live-chatted over at Poynter with the institute’s Kelly McBride about political cartoons and plagiarism. Only later did I realize the telling headline of the chat:

“Should editorial cartoonists follow same ethical guidelines as journalists?”

In my newsroom-skewed worldview, of course, that would say: “As OTHER journalists?” But as the lively chat progressed, I realized this is a perilous presumption.

And I was reminded, too, of the line from Walt Kelly lore. The famed ”Pogo” creator once asked an editor whether a newsroom cartoonist was a journalist. The mocking retort: Is a barnacle a ship?

(We believers can only hope that the Pulitzers — after nearly 90 years of valuing editorial cartooning with a “Journalism” prize — won’t one day abandon tradition and board that ship.)

So here, very interestingly, are some of the different opinions on this question that emerged. And you can read the full transcript of the chat on this page at Poynter.(which graciously hosted the chat in the wake of the recent David Simpson and Jeff Stahler cases of accused plagiarism):

KELLY McBRIDE, Poynter:

“In my opinion, cartoonists are as much journalists as columnists or editorial writers. They certainly don’t have all the restrictions on them regarding opinion. But when it comes to intellectual honesty, they should be as upstanding as all other journalists. The problem is I don’t think we talk about what it means to be intellectually honest.”

MATT WUERKER, Politico editorial cartoonist and AAEC president-elect:

“On the question of cartoonists as journalists I think it’s hard to say we’re really the same as reporters or even columnists. What we do is not so straight ahead. We combine political points of view with humor...visual and verbal, puns, allusions and often a lot of whimsy. We’re much more like Jon Stewart or [Stephen] Colbert than Maureen [Dowd] or George Will.”

MIKE RHODE, ComicsDC blogger:

“I think an [argument] can be made for a clear line of descent from French caricaturists such as [Daumier] through British printmakers like Gillray to Nast and other editorial cartoonists far easier than it is to make a line from the development of professional journalists to editorial cartoonists.”

PHIL HANDS, Wisconsin State Journal:

“I’m not sure how many editors consider us to be journalists. I don’t think many of our readers really do. The first [question] I’m always asked is do I come up with my own ideas. [Readers] also regularly submit ideas for cartoons to me. They think it would be great if I used their idea without giving them any credit. I don’t think readers consider plagarism a problem, because many don’t realize we come up with our own original ideas.”

.

STEVE ARTLEY, ArtleyToons.com:

“I think professional guidelines concerning plagiarism should be adopted for cartoonists, similar to those for journalists.”

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MARK FIORE, Pulitzer-winning political animator (SFGate.com et al.):

“Editorial cartoonists ARE journalists. Journalists who deal in satire, parody & opinion. ... Which makes standard ‘ethical guidelines’ a little trickier than the ‘just-the-facts’ standards for reporters.”

.

Writer/artist/visual storyteller Michael Cavna is creator of the "Comic Riffs" column and graphic-novel reviewer for The Post's Book World. He relishes sharp-eyed satire in most any form.

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