Fitz’s take: Cartoonist returns to find American press in peril | Local editorials and opinion

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The next column is the author’s opinion and analysis:

After graduating from the University of Arizona in 1977, I scanned the back pages of “Editor and Publisher” magazine for newspapers looking for a serious editorial cartoonist to grace their opinion pages. Help-seeking advertisements in trade journals often posed this question to aspiring journalists: “Do you have ink in your veins?”

If the lifeblood of journalism is the ink, the opinion page is its beating heart. This is where emotion, subjectivity and debate are encouraged. It was there that, in my youth, I discovered columnists like Molly Ivins, Mary McGrory, EJ Dionne, Royko, George Will and Leonard Pitts. This is where I would find moving editorials, great oratorical writing, surprising guest essays, provocative analyzes to challenge my assumptions, and the most popular and enjoyable feature, Letters to the Editor, where our neighbors express themselves, praise and worry about our Republic.

Well, worry not, dear readers, because in our troubled democracy, many corporate high priests cut the beating hearts of their small and big city newspapers on the sacrificial altar of profit.

People also read…

Allow me here to suck my employer. I am grateful to work for the Arizona Daily Star, a rare newspaper that truly values ​​local opinion. This lucky cartoonist, as I often note, is also lucky because my weekly cartoons are syndicated worldwide by Daryl Cagle’s Cagle Cartoons, Incorporated. When I returned from celebrating my semi-retirement last week I saw this notice from Daryl Cagle advising that we cartoonists Gannett have notified all unions that they are ending all content produced by editorial cartoonists and opinion columnists. All.

It is enormous. Gannett owns a quarter of America’s daily newspapers and already many of Gannett’s newspapers have abandoned their opinion pages. Today, Gannett’s flagship national newspaper, “USA Today,” does not publish any editorial cartoons. Gannett and Lee jointly own the Star, but the newsroom generally takes Lee’s advice.

A follower of the Google News Initiative, Gannett argues that opinion content is divisive. And unpopular with readers, readers who end up canceling their subscriptions. I remember the great editorial that appeared in 1897, in the New York Sun, which begins with “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus”, only, in 2022, Virginia, there is an Ebenezer Scrooge and he is the CEO by Gannett. And he believes op-ed pages are a farce, outdated ghosts of journalism’s past that scare readers away, along with those pesky political endorsements and letters to the editor.

A cabal of Gannett noted at a spring meeting: “Readers don’t want us to tell them what to think. They don’t believe we have the expertise to tell anyone what to think about most issues.

Readers will simply have to rely on Fox News and Twitter for analysis now in democracy’s most perilous hour.

“They perceive us as having a biased agenda.”

Has anyone stood up at this gathering and noted that all opinion pages are wells of biases, biases, viewpoints and perspectives and that any reader who thinks that opinion pages are supposed to be beacons of pure objectivity is a misinformed fool?

Opinion is “our least read content”. And is “frequently cited by readers as a reason to cancel their subscriptions”. It must be after they don’t read them.

Opinion pages come out with a whimper.

A much nobler end – and desired by editors around the world – would be what happened to Mark Twain when he worked for a week editing the “Morning Glory and Johnson County War-Whoop.”

Twain noted that the “vigorous writing is calculated to elevate the audience”, but he is hesitant to attract the attention “it commands”. His writing stimulates a “gentleman” who shoots him through a window “and paralyzes me”. A bomb falls into his stovepipe. Then a reader “freckles” Twain with bullet holes, “until my skin won’t hold my principles”, and another throws Twain out the window, followed by another angry reader who rips off all his clothes, and a “stranger” who scalps him “with the easy freedom of an old acquaintance”. His op-ed career ends “in less than five minutes” when all the “villains in the country arrive in their war paint and continue to scare me to death with their tomahawks”. Twain writes what he wrote “today…will wake up another hornet’s nest.” I have to say goodbye…journalism is too emotional for me.

Like craven-shaking editor Twain, Gannett, afraid to break through the hornet’s nests, found 21st century commentary journalism “too emotional.”

I had the privilege of working for the late Tony Snow when he was the editorial page editor of the Daily Press in Newport News, Virginia. Future President George W. Bush’s press secretary would respond to every irate reader with the same warning: “Thank you for your perspective.” I am convinced that our democratic republic will survive our differences.

Today, I am not so confident, fearing for the press which fears such differences.

David Fitzsimmons, [email protected]

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