A cartoonist loses his job, and Charlotte loses something special
The Charlotte Observer decided last week to part ways with its longtime editorial cartoonist. WFAE’s Tommy Tomlinson, in his "On My Mind" commentary, says it’s the loss of a major talent.
This morning I want to talk about The Charlotte Observer letting go their brilliant editorial cartoonist, Kevin Siers. But this is tricky territory for me, so let me be clear about a few things upfront.
I work for WFAE, and we’re a competitor to the Observer. But before WFAE, I worked for the Observer for 23 years. I’ve known Kevin a long time. I also know and have worked with Peter St. Onge, a longtime Charlottean who is the opinion editor for McClatchy Newspapers, which owns the Observer.
So this decision affected people and a place I care about, even as I’m now on the outside looking in.
Maybe that’s why, instead of this whole thing making me outraged, I mostly just feel sad.
Here is a clear fact: Kevin is one of the best in the world at what he does. His cartoons won a Pulitzer Prize in 2014 — the last Pulitzer the Observer has won. He spent nearly 36 years at the paper doing the heart of all great journalism — comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. He punctured overinflated egos, chopped haughty politicians down to size, mocked the lies and hypocrisy of the powerful. He also helped mark moments of passing and celebrate this city’s victories. Untold thousands of readers have Kevin Siers cartoons on their walls, in their scrapbooks, folded up somewhere so they can take them out and remember.
As the media landscape scatters and flattens, it would seem like it’s important to hang onto anything that makes you distinctive. Editorial cartoons are one of the things that make a newspaper feel distinctive. And the Observer has a tradition of outstanding editorial cartoonists. Three of them won Pulitzers over the years — not just Kevin, but also Gene Payne in 1968 and Doug Marlette in 1988. That’s 55 years of excellence. It’s a tradition that appears to be ending.
And it’s not just ending here. McClatchy also let go Jack Ohman of the Sacramento Bee and Joel Pett of the Lexington Herald-Leader. Both of them won Pulitzers for their papers.
My friend Peter St. Onge put out a statement saying McClatchy made this decision based on “changing reader habits.” I guess McClatchy deserves at least a little credit for holding on this long. Most papers ditched their editorial cartoonists long ago. There are only a couple dozen left at newspapers across the country. Kevin, like some other cartoonists, is nationally syndicated and can get some work that way. But it’s not the same as being the voice of the city.
This is surely a sign that I’m old, but I remember sitting in diners in the morning, watching people open the morning paper and seeing where they turned to. Some folks went straight for the sports section. Others for the comics. But a lot of people, a lot of days, turned to the editorial cartoon. There’s nothing else around that can crystallize your thinking — or maybe rearrange your thoughts — in such a quick and sharp and elegant way.
Some thoughts go beyond words.
Tommy Tomlinson’s "On My Mind" column runs Mondays on WFAE and WFAE.org.It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at firstname.lastname@example.org.