Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Kevin Siers has been fired after 36 years with The Charlotte Observer. It is part of a national trend of moving away from opinion content in the struggling print industry.
The McClatchy chain that owns The Observer and 29 other U.S. newspapers recently announced it would no longer run editorial cartoons. In a statement, the publishing company cited a focus on local news and changing reader habits, with countless places to access opinion pieces online.
Another contributor is the growing corporate control and consolidation of the news media.
University of North Carolina at Greensboro political scientist and author of Laughter as Politics: Critical Theory in an Age of Hilarity, Patrick Giamario, says the corporations that own many of the legacy media organizations want to appear as apolitical and above the fray as possible. But he adds this fear of angering readers and losing subscribers is misplaced.
"The purpose of a newspaper is not only provide readers with the facts, but to prompt them to think about those facts in ways that they might not have considered before, or might not have been included in the sort of more objective straight news stories themselves," says Giamario. "And so this experience of laughter is really essential to news gathering."
Giamario adds that editorial cartoons may actually attract readers who are otherwise uninterested in politics or current events to look at these stories for the first time. Giamario points out that laughter works on both sides of the aisle.
He says recently laid off Charlotte Observer cartoonist Kevin Siers demonstrated this skillfully in his daily editorials lampooning both conservative and liberal politicians, prompting readers to re-think issues from multiple directions.
"He’s a high-profile cartoonist and I think the state of North Carolina was lucky to have someone working in that capacity full time," he says. "My suspicion is that, you know, his recent work which has sort of spoofed various things that have been going on in North Carolina politics is precisely what made his work unattractive to those in control of McClatchy and the newspaper outlets."
Giamario adds that amidst the degraded journalistic infrastructure in recent years, more engagement is desperately needed around education, culture war issues, and others. According to a Herb Block Foundation study, at the beginning of the 20th century there were some 2,000 editorial cartoonists employed nationwide. Today’s estimates are less than 40.