The editorial cartooning world was shocked a few weeks ago when McClatchy Newspapers announced the layoffs of three Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonists. Jack Ohman of The Sacramento Bee, Joel Pett of the Lexington Herald-Leader (Kentucky) and Kevin Siers of the Charlotte Observer were blindsided by the firings, which took effect immediately.
To those of us who follow the business end of cartooning, it wasn’t a complete surprise. There are barely twenty full time editorial cartoonists left in a field that boasted almost two thousand at the turn of the twentieth century. Newspapers in general are a dying concern in the digital age we now inhabit.
I met up with Jack Ohman back in 2019 at The Bee office in Sacramento. Jack says I was probably the last visitor he had before the pandemic shut off any human contact, and a year or so later the office itself was abandoned to cut costs. He’s been working from home since then, so at least he didn’t have to endure being escorted to the exit by McClatchy security guards.
There’s a certain amount of irony in the Bee’s abandonment of cartoons. Their logo, a newspaper hawking insect named “Scoopy” was specifically created for McClatchy by Walt Disney in 1943. (Well, actually it was created by animator Hank Porter, but like everything that passed through the gates of Disney studios, only Walt’s name would appear on the logo.)
Maybe McClatchy should replace Scoopy with another block of printed prose. After all, the paper is so thin now there’s barely room for any substantial journalism. Today its cartoons, but the way things are going they’ll probably have to eliminate adjectives and adverbs next.