IN A BRUTAL PROFESSIONAL CLIMATE, many newspaper editorial cartoonists have grown accustomed to seeing their work devalued and their ranks endangered. Yet there are certain price points that will still cause this thinned herd to buck.
In its latest solicitation to artists, the New York Times apparently dipped to one of those trigger price-points.
Media blogger Jim Romenesko reported today that the Times will return to running editorial cartoons in its Sunday Review section as of Feb. 26 — news in and of itself. But according to Romenesko, at least some of the cartoonists who received the solicitation for the new page-2, single-panel cartoons are none too pleased with the pay and process.
The Times’s solicitation, Romenesko reports, says that “compensation for an original cartoon will be $250.”
“I understand cartoonists' indignation,” John Cole, president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, tells Comic Riffs. “I have a hunch that the Times would never solicit opinion columns or even freelance illustrations in this manner in exchange for a comparatively small fee. This amounts to a cattle-call for cartoonists, wherein each would elbow aside their peers at the end of an already-busy workweek in the hope of landing a job requiring a three-hour turnaround.”
“None of this is to say that the Times’ initiative is a bad thing,” continues Cole, who draws for the Scranton Times Tribune. “Just that it could be better.”
Politico cartoonist Matt Wuerker, president-elect of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, tells Comic Riffs that he replied to the Times’ solicitation, writing in part:
“Your email announcing the return of editorial cartoons to the Sunday Times filled me with mixed emotions. I was very happy to hear the Times is going to use more cartoons, in addition to the fine work of [alt-cartoonist] Brian McFadden that you so wisely added to your pages. Cartoons are hugely popular, as you found out from your readers when you dropped the roundup of syndicated work last year.”
Wuerker, though, goes to call the new approach “insulting.”
“The idea of dozens of cartoonists submitting sketches on spec, and then out of that pile your editors pick one idea to assign and only that one cartoonist is paid, is not a system any self-respecting journalist would submit to. ... ,” he wrote back. “To add to the insult, your fee of $250 is far closer to a reprint fee than a fair price for an original cartoon. Given the size and prestige of the Times, something starting at $750 for first rights would be reasonable.”
Calling the solicitation a “demeaning insult,” Ottawa Citizen cartoonist Cam Cardow said that the competition for “one prized spot with a reward of $250 [is] unworthy of a reputable publication like the New York Times.”
In his reply to the Times, Cardow continued: “I suggest you take this idea back to the boardroom from which it was birthed and have it reconsidered. I would also humbly suggest that your editors take an afternoon off and head to the the local library to study the contributions editorial cartooning has made to journalism and society.”
Political cartoonist and former AAEC president Ted Rall tells Comic Riffs that he thinks communication is vital at this point.
“We're not trying to give them a hard time,” Rall says of the Times. “The problem is that they're not making the slightest effort to make our lives easier, but rather the opposite. As always, communications are key. ... I think if [Times editors] simply were to call some cartoonists informally ... these things would stop happening.”
Cartoonists tell Comic Riffs that the email came from Sunday Review/Opinion art director Aviva Michaelov, who last June smartly chose McFadden as the new section’s debut cartoonist.
Update: Reached Wednesday, Michaelov declined to comment to Comic Riffs on the matter.