Here is a letter I wrote to my congressman, Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, describing the grim situation facing Cagle Cartoons and our troubled editorial cartooning profession. You can save Cagle.com by visiting Cagle.com/heroes.
Dear Congressman Carbajal,
I run a constituent small business in Montecito, Cagle Cartoons Inc., that syndicates editorial cartoons and columnists. About half of America’s daily, paid-circulation newspapers subscribe to our service, which you can see at CagleCartoons.com.
Journalism has been in decline for years, but the newspaper industry now faces sudden extinction with the COVID-19 pandemic as newspaper advertising revenue has crashed. A large percentage of our subscribing newspapers have simply stopped paying their bills. A good example is our local Santa Barbara News-Press, which has run our cartoons and columns on their editorial page on most days for more than 14 years; they are now seven months behind in their payments.
Industry experts predict that as many as two thirds of newspapers may not survive the pandemic. We saw the stock price of Gannett, the largest newspaper chain, drop from more than $10 a share to under a dollar in a matter of months (USA Today runs our cartoons). The loss of newspapers would also sink the editorial cartooning profession and our small business along with it.
Our website, Cagle.com, is the face of the editorial cartooning profession to the world, and we suffer for that as press freedoms around the world are in decline. Humorless despots hate seeing themselves in our cartoons, and our sites are targets of sophisticated hacker attacks that clearly come from state actors.
Although America benefits by demonstrating our values around the world through journalism and editorial cartoons, the U.S. government does little or nothing to support editorial cartoonists and other journalists who suffer from foreign attacks.
We received a Small Business Administration Paycheck Protection Program loan in the amount of $10,600; we applied for a very much larger loan based on our expenses, which mainly consist of royalties to our artists and our tech expenses that are bloated by defenses against foreign hacker attacks.
Our small business is unusual in that we have only two employees, our income from newspapers is broadly distributed to our contributors and the loan amount was not based on our actual expenses, it was based only on the salaries of our two employees — my bookkeeper and me.
We have more than 75 great cartoonists and columnists, who depend on us, who were ignored in the process because their income is reported on 1099s. The PPP program was not designed for us.
For many years I traveled around the world giving lectures through the State Department Speaker Program. In nations without press freedoms, audiences were shocked to see how American cartoonists were free to criticize their government. Well more than half of the world’s population lives in countries where cartoonists are not allowed to draw their nation’s leader.
The Speaker Program was effective in spreading our values and promoting press freedom. American editorial cartoonists are seen as stars around the world, where we are well respected, like American astronauts, basketball players and jazz musicians. These effective State Department lecture programs have stopped featuring American editorial cartoonists during President Donald Trump’s administration.
The impending collapse of journalism is a national tragedy that threatens our democracy. The newspaper industry has been lobbying in Washington seeking government support that is unlikely to happen during the Trump administration, which has shown hostility to press criticism — criticism that is strongest and most visible among editorial cartoonists.
If Democrats win the White House, I fear that any support for journalism may not include small syndicates and press services because our businesses are unusual. We are likely to be overlooked, as we were with the PPP program.
When legislators think of journalists, they don’t think of editorial cartoonists. Editorial cartoonists are journalists. We are important. Don’t forget us.
— Editorial cartoonist Daryl Cagle lives in Montecito and runs the CagleCartoons.com news syndicate, distributing editorial cartoons to more than 850 news sites and newspapers around the world, including Noozhawk. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow his blog at www.darylcagle.com and follow him on Twitter: @dcagle. Click here for previous cartoons. The opinions drawn are his own.