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Editorial Cartoonists Strive to Preserve Their Threatened Art

The Association of Editorial Cartoonists is holding its annual meeting this week in Washington. A Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist discusses his craft, which is often threatened by staff cuts at newspapers.

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    For a traditional bastion of journalistic humor, it's no laughing matter. As financial pressures continue to plague the newspaper industry, one feature most affected has been the editorial cartoon, as full-time positions have dwindled, and more of the action moves online.

    The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists is holding its annual meeting this week in Washington, and we invited one prominent member to join us. Walt Handelsman won this year's Pulitzer Prize in his field, for cartoons on a wide range of subjects, including Iraq. In this one, a reporter in Baghdad says, "When asked if this is sectarian violence or a full-blown civil war, many Iraqis were unable to answer."

    And the frustrations of modern life. Here, a man going through airport screening is left wearing nothing but his boarding pass. The caption reads, "After seven hours of wading through heightened airport security, Larry faced one final challenge."

    This was Walt Handelsman's second Pulitzer. He draws for Newsday in New York, and his work is nationally syndicated to more than 200 other newspapers.

    Welcome to you.

  • WALTER HANDELSMAN, Editorial Cartoonist:

    Thank you.


    First, explain the problems. In what ways is cost-cutting affecting your profession?


    Well, 20 years ago, there were 200 editorial cartoonists in America. There were a lot more daily newspapers. And over the last 20 years, as the daily newspapers have begun to shrink and as cable news has become more popular, and now with the advent of the Internet, more and more newspapers have decided they have no need for an editorial cartoonist.


    So what is lost? I mean, you are one of the prominent ones. You're seeing red all over the place. Is the local emphasis?


    Well, I think what is lost is that the readers that open up their newspapers don't see a familiar style of cartooning every day. They also lose out, as you said, on the local cartooning, which is very important to all of us.

    For instance, I live on Long Island. I draw a lot of cartoons about Long Island, about New York City, as well as national and international stuff. So as soon as you begin using only syndicated editorial cartoons, your readers lose that. And readers, by far, love editorial cartoons; that's a proven fact.


    That's well-known.


    That's well-known. And, you know, there's just a lot of cost-cutting in newspaper right now. And so one of the things that I guess publishers and editors, I think in many cases reluctantly think they can do without is an editorial cartoonist, because they can buy a syndicated package.

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