Will political cartoons adapt?

Last week, I attended a lecture hosted by the UNC Center for Media Law and Policy about political cartoons. Kevin Kallaugher, a political cartoonist at The Economist, spoke about his career experiences and what the future might hold for political cartoonists.

Kallaugher began the lecture by asking everyone in the room who knew a political cartoonist to raise his or her hand. There were about 50 people in the lecture hall – only one person raised his hand. Kallaugher then informed us that this wasn’t shocking at all – there are only about 40 paid editorial cartoonists in the U.S. today, while there were about 2,000 employed editorial cartoonists at the beginning of the 20th century.

Part of the reason for this is that newspapers have had to cut editorial cartoonists from the regular staff. It’s rare, or almost impossible, as a political cartoonist to find a long-term paying job at a newspaper. Because of this, political cartoonists are having to adapt in order to remain relevant. The problem with adapting is that it’s not always profitable – while political cartoonists can put their work on the Internet for the world to see, they won’t always make money from this.

In an article from Big Think called “Is the Editorial Cartoonist Dead?” by Bob Duggan, Duggan says this can also open doors for political cartoonists to freely express themselves, as long as they know they won’t always make money. With more political cartoonists working as free agents, they don’t have to follow the rules of editors, and therefor can use their cartoons to express their opinions freely.

Although I recognize the decline of popularity in political cartoons, I hope the political cartooning industry isn’t dying. I’m a prime example of the fact that my generation hardly looks at political cartoons – I hadn’t given them any thought until I attended this lecture. I could, however, see political cartoons making a come back if cartoonists embraced Internet culture and utilized social media.

The good news is that my generation loves pictures. According to a recent Forbes article, people want visuals. Multi-media platforms are growing in popularity, and most people would rather look at pictures or videos on their cell phones than read an entire story.  An Instagram account with nothing but political cartoons? I’d follow it!

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