Yesterday, the Denver Post's Mike Keefe won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning -- an honor that will cheer those of us who've enjoyed his work for years.
But the Post deserves a tip of the cap, too, simply for keeping Keefe on the payroll. Because these days, folks with Keefe's specialty are becoming endangered species at newspapers across the country.
Given the economics of print journalism, broadsheets aplenty have been cutting what they deem to be non-essential personnel -- and unfortunately, cartoonists have frequently been grouped in that category, because syndicated offerings are widely available. Moreover, many of those sent packing have been treated brusquely, as was the case in February, when veteran Las Vegas Journal-Review cartoonist Jim Day was let go. Day, who started working at the paper in 1981, was "asked to leave the building that day and told I would not be allowed to return," according to The Daily Cartoonist website.
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More examples? This 2009 piece from The Moderate Voice website lists more than thirty cartoonists who were either laid off, bought out or had their workload lessened -- with a diminution in pay as well, no doubt. And the ink-shed has continued since then. Last September, Ron Rogers, who was believed to be the only African-American to work as a full-time editorial cartoonist, was laid off at the South Bend Tribune. And last November, The Journal News laid off Matt Davies, previous winner of (yes) the Pulitzer Prize.
Thus far, the Post has continued to back Keefe, as well as pros in other positions that have been under fire nationwide -- like, for instance, movie critics. (Lisa Kennedy's writings continue to have a prominent place in the paper.) No guarantee this policy will last forever -- but for now, anyway, the Post braintrust appears to understand that the efforts of staffers like Keefe are more valuable than the salary the paper would safe by cutting him loose.
By the way, Pulitzer committee, Westword continues to feature an editorial cartoonist, too. May we present for your future consideration: Kenny Be.