Despite the popularity of political cartoons and visual commentary online, Steve Kelley, the political cartoonist for the New Orleans Times-Picayune since 2002, has been informed his job will be cut as part of the company’s transition to three-day-a-week printing. Kelley was one of 600 people in New Orleans and Alabama laid off Tuesday by Advance Publications.
“I used to joke with people that for a political cartoonist, living in New Orleans represented job security,” Kelley said via e-mail. “Okay, so I was wrong.”
Kelley will remain on staff until October 1, when the Times-Picayune begins its three-day-a-week print schedule. He will also continue drawing his nationally-syndicated cartoons for Creators Syndicate. But in the face of losing his perch as New Orleans’ cartoonist, Kelley remains remarkably understanding of the tough decisions management has been forced to make.
“I look at the Times-Picayune’s decisions as their business. It must be very difficult to lay off scores of excellent journalists, and I can’t imagine they would do so without reason,” Kelley remarked. “That said, I would have encouraged the paper to transition away from print editions more gradually.”
Kelley told The Washington Post’s Michael Cavna, “I just think this is an abrupt way to move to this model — and you’ll end up with collateral damage. You’re, in a sense, training people out of the habit of newspaper reading … Once we teach people that they didn’t need their Monday paper and their Tuesday paper, they’ll start to ask themselves whether they need their Wednesday paper, too.”
Kelley relocated to New Orleans in 2002 to take the Times-Picayune cartoonist slot vacated by Pulitzer Prize winner Walt Handelsman. Kelley was fired from his first cartooning job at the San Diego Union-Tribune, after editors accused him of sneaking a cartoon into the paper featuring the exposed butt cracks of several teens wearing baggy, low-riding jeans. Kelley has maintained it was a procedural issue on the part of the editors, and that his firing was at least in part over his “right of center” political philosophy.
Kelly has won many awards over his long cartooning career, including the National Journalism Award from The Scripps-Howard Foundation and the National Headliner Award.
He is also the co-creator behind “Dustin,” the popular comic strip about an unemployed college grad moving back home with his parents. “Dustin” is syndicated to over 320 newspapers by King Features. Kelly produces the comic alongside fellow political cartoonist Jeff Parker, the staff cartoonist at Florida Today.
“He’s a really fine cartoonist, and he’s been great to work with,” said a shaken Terri Troncale, the Time-Picayune’s editorial page editor. “Cartoons are very important, and I’m sad he’s not going to be here to work with.”
“The paper can get by without locally-produced cartoons, I suppose, but what if our former mayor is indicted?” asks Kelley. “What if the Saints go on another championship run? What if there’s a hurricane? Like a pistol in the nightstand, it’s good to know the political cartoonist is there when needed.”