The importance of editorial cartoons in community newspapers

May 4, 2018

By Daryl Cagle
Owner | Cagle Cartoons
Editors have a love-hate relationship with editorial cartoons, so I’d like to be the one to spread the love.
Total disclosure here: I run a small syndicate (CagleCartoons.com) that sells only to editorial page editors. I sell a package of about 14 columnists and 70 top political cartoonists from around the world.
Why do the cartoonists keep drawing as their jobs have faded away? Because they love it. They have the best job in the world; they draw whatever they want each day and force their opinion onto others. They’re a loud part of the pubic debate. Their work makes people laugh, cry, think and riot in the streets around the world. Their work is a joy.
I’ve seen many cartoonists lose their jobs, but few of them actually stop drawing editorial cartoons. The profession is filled with passionate, talented people who have little business sense, and are now freelancers, working from home. In other words, they’re like most journalists these days.
With a little editorial strategy, cartoons are a cheap, easy and unique way to drive reader engagement.

A bridge to younger readers
Editorial cartoons are part of state-mandated, AP Social Studies testing in every state. Teachers teach to the tests. Our biggest new customers are educational testing services and textbooks. The most common email I get is: “Dear Mr. Cagle, Please explain your cartoon to me; my paper is due tomorrow.” Students don’t understand the cartoons because they know nothing about the news, and once the news is explained to them, the meaning of the cartoon becomes clear.
Newspaper cartoons are an important resource for schools—local papers should post an updating collection of cartoons on their websites. Displaying topical cartoons from keyworded RSS feeds requires little upkeep. Editors should encourage teachers to do lessons and scavenger hunts on local newspaper sites. Nothing drives traffic like a class of 30 children looking at lots of cartoons. Teachers and students love it.

Pair cartoons with themes
Most editors only look at the new cartoons that the five big syndicates email to them; instead, editors can search for the right editorial cartoons by searching online sites.
I’ve heard that editors like to complain that editorial cartoons are too much alike, that too many cartoons are about President Trump and that there are too many liberal cartoonists. These are editors who only look at what’s sent to them instead of actively searching for what they need. Editors should try pairing a column about the environment with a cartoon about the environment. They should try running a cartoon about education with a column about education. Editors are annoyed every year on Martin Luther King Day, complaining that they don’t have an MLK cartoon. That’s nonsense. These editors aren’t searching for what they need.

Clean House, Improve Content
and Save Money
Years ago, newspapers would subscribe to the individual cartoonists that they liked. Now the syndicates sell packages of cartoons as prices have fallen. Many newspapers still keep the individual cartoonist subscriptions that they had 20 or 30 years ago. Each year, the five major syndicates push the prices of these old subscriptions up by about 3 percent, making the individual subscriptions expensive over time, compared to the newer, cheaper packages. Editors who pay little attention to their cartoon subscriptions are the most profitable clients for the five, big syndicates.
Syndicates also charge “delivery” fees, a legacy from the days when the cartoons were mailed to newspapers and delivery actually cost something. Most editors are unaware that they are paying delivery fees, and cartoonists hate these fees because the syndicates don’t credit delivery fees to the artists’ royalties.
Editors should think about dropping their individual subscriptions; they should refuse to pay delivery fees from syndicates; they should refuse long syndicate contracts. Editors should be able to quit their contracts anytime they want. This is a buyer’s market. Should shop around; see what’s out there.
Cut costs. Improve content. Engage readers. Appeal to students. Dump the bad contracts. Love your cartoons.

Daryl Cagle owns Cagle Cartoons. Read about Daryl’s syndicate at CagleWorld.com. See his syndicate download site for newspapers at CagleCartoons.com. Read his personal blog at DarylCagle.com. He can be reached at daryl@cagle.com.

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