Where have the hometown zingers gone?

Some Getting Grounded: the perspective of editorial cartoonist Harold Maples in the Fort Worth Star Telegram. Cartoon from TCU Library.
Some Getting Grounded: the perspective of editorial cartoonist Harold Maples in the Fort Worth Star Telegram. Cartoon from TCU Library.

ONCE UPON A TIME a cartoonist for a big city daily newspaper in Texas – call him Harold – went to a cartoonists’ conference in Montreal, Canada.

Got there, went to see a cartoonist who worked at the Montreal daily.

Montreal cartoonist asked: “What are you doing here, Harold?”

Harold replied, “Came for the cartoonists’ convention.”

Montreal cartoonist asked, “Why did you come a week early?”

Embarrassed, Harold flew home to Texas immediately, told his editor – call him Jack – of his mistake.

Jack the editor told Harold the cartoonist he guessed he understood, that people make mistakes, told Harold not to mention his mistake to anyone. Just keep it a little secret between the two of them.

A few days later, details of Harold the cartoonist’s mistake appeared on the Texas newspaper’s front page in its humorist’s column. Call the columnist George.

Jack the editor, chagrinned, called Harold the cartoonist into his office, demanded to know why Harold the cartoonist had revealed his mistake.

“Well, thunder,” Harold the cartoonist tried to explain, “I only told George.”

“Yes,” Jack the editor said, “And George only told half a million readers.”

# # #

Roger Summers
Roger Summers

I have told the above story before and I tell it again here because I want to make a point:

As our newspapers change and evolve from print to digital, there are fewer and fewer newspaper cartoonists – especially cartoonists “commenting” on local issues.

This is detrimental to readers, communities and even the newspapers themselves.

Cartoonists have a special, forceful way of “saying” what often needs to be said on the local level. They can effectively needle, cajole. Bring smiles, even laughter as they do. Make points that need to be made as only cartoonists can make them.

They can effectively – and quickly, straightforwardly – call attention to the missteps, say, of a mayor, a council member, a county commissioner.

Raise awareness of questionable actions of school board members, judges, sheriffs, police chiefs, business chieftains.

Others.

Through their drawings, cartoonists can piercingly drive home points that should be driven home.

And do it right there in the hometown newspaper.

There where it makes a profound difference.

There where it counts, where it matters.

To cut costs, many newspapers now use syndicated cartoonists who “comment” on national and international issues.

What’s too often missing is the perspective – the viewpoint, the oversight, and, yes, the sometimes zing and sting and the oft-time smile afforded by the local cartoonists.

Would that newspapers, as they cast about for a business model that will work in today’s changing newspaper world, will realize the wisdom of bringing local cartoonists back to their pages, back to their towns.

Readers, communities need that.

Readers, communities deserve that.

Roger Summers is a journalist, essayist and author. Roger is the author of Heart Song from a Washboard Road.

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