They Won’t Go Quietly

There’s something about the Tribune Company. Other newspapers lay off lots of people, but when Tribune papers backed up the truck a couple weeks ago, Civic Action responded with an online petition accusing “corporate owners” of putting profits before their papers’ responsibility “to deliver strong watchdog journalism to the public.”

Other newspapers dump their editorial cartoonists. But when some Tribune papers decided to do without, the cartoonists of America declared war. December 12 became “Black Ink Monday,” and 100 angry cartoons were posted at the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists Web site,, about half them attacking the Tribune Company by name. Black Ink Monday was also, said the Web site, “a commentary on newspapers everywhere who have lost sight of the value of having a staff editorial cartoonist,” but riled-up visitors to the Web site were instructed to e-mail Tribune spokesman Gary Weitman in the Tower.

What’s the beef? Tribune cartoonist Jeff MacNelly died in 2000, opening one of the most desirable positions in journalism, but the Tribune has never filled it. Last month the Tribune Company’s Los Angeles Times fired its cartoonist, Michael Ramirez, and said it would run syndicated cartoons instead. The Christian Science Monitor’s Clay Bennett, who’s president of the AAEC, protested to the Tribune Company’s CEO, Dennis FitzSimons. “There are few journalists in a newsroom who can define the tone and identity of a publication like an editorial cartoonist does,” Bennett wrote. “By discarding those who make a newspaper unique, you rob it of its character. By robbing a newspaper of its character, you steal its spirit. The fate of several editorial cartoonists now hangs in the balance as other newspapers within your company look to make staff cuts.”

Bennett says FitzSimons didn’t reply, and a few days later the Tribune Company eliminated hundreds of jobs, among them the one held by Baltimore Sun cartoonist Kevin “KAL” Kallaugher. “He took a buyout,” says Bennett. “He had good reason to believe his position was in danger. They announced they wouldn’t replace him.”

On December 5 Bennett and the Tribune’s Bruce Dold talked cartooning on All Things Considered. Dold, the editorial-page editor, has tantalized cartoonists for years by dangling MacNelly’s job before them without ever offering it to anybody. On the radio Dold pretty much admitted what cartoonists assume–the bean counters won’t give him the money to fill the position.

“Do you hire an investigative reporter?” he said. “Do you hire a City Council reporter? Do you hire a cartoonist? I can’t buy a City Council reporter through syndication. I can’t buy an investigative reporter through syndication. But I can get the cartoonist.”

Nick Anderson once believed Dold was about to make him MacNelly’s successor. Anderson eventually gave up on the paper, and this year he won the Pulitzer Prize at the Louisville Courier-Journal. “Dold’s logic, that it is a zero sum game pitting reporters against cartoonists, is fallacious,” he e-mailed me. “You need both to have a thriving, vibrant newspaper that can retain readership into the future. . . . We think we’re part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

I told Anderson on Black Ink Monday that the problem was the public would never see the 100 cartoons. He said CBS was posting a story on its Web site that linked to the cartoons, and bloggers were starting to hook up. “I think it will snowball,” he predicted. The next day the AAEC reported 19,238 visitors to the site. The previous Monday there’d been 2,804.

Much response? I asked the Tribune Company’s Gary Weitman Monday evening. He said a “handful” of e-mails had arrived. He told me he’d answer all of them, but he wouldn’t tell me what he’d say.

The Medill School of Media Management?

Visit the Medill School of Journalism home page and you’ll find yourself staring at two boxes and a question. The boxes are labeled “Journalism” and “Integrated Marketing Communications,” and the question asks, “Where would you like to go?” To a lot of Medill graduates (and some professors) this design represents not merely a choice but a divide.

And that’s why so many were troubled last week when Northwestern University announced unexpectedly quickly that a new dean will take over unexpectedly soon. John Lavine comes out of the IMC program. He’s a professor of media management and strategy and he’ll succeed outgoing dean Loren Ghiglione on January 9, in the middle of the school year.

The university’s announcement quoted Lavine in worrisome fashion. “We need to develop a more profound understanding of audiences and consumers,” he said, “of what they value and of how to present journalism and the new digital media to them.” No one can argue with that. But then he plunged into language that to a lot of journalists is jargon: “We also need to have a far deeper understanding of media brands and marketing communications and how to use them to engage media audiences.” And he declared the divide will exist no more: “Building on the strategic goals developed by the combined faculties, we will urgently work together to remake the school’s entire undergraduate and graduate curricula.”

Before I could ask Lavine to elaborate he left the country. He’s a man of mystery, and a listserve that connects Medill graduates has gone wild debating his appointment. “I would be extremely dismayed to see Medill’s primary focus shift to marketing, but I am confident that our students, faculty and alums will never let that happen,” one alum commented. Another wrote, “Seems to me Medill is just going where the money is. What kind of alum donations do you think roll in from reporters vs. advertising and communications consultants?” A recent grad who went into marketing sounded squeamish nonetheless: “I always saw Medill as a place of independent thought and old-school journalistic ideals and this is definitely not a return to its roots.”

Other alums argued that it’s not a bad thing to teach the business of journalism along with the profession of journalism. A professor I talked to said he believes Lavine wants Medill “to think about itself from the ground up, but I wasn’t interpreting what he was saying as throwing the baby out with the bathwater.” Lavine’s appointment was announced to the Medill faculty by NU president Henry Bienen and provost Lawrence Dumas, who left some professors with the impression that they believe Medill’s reputation has slipped and they intend to restore it in the only way some academics understand–more and better research. Lavine told the faculty he’d try to lighten their teaching loads so they’d have more time to do it.

“I can’t in all honesty say that research is anything approximating Medill’s strength,” said the same professor. “We have always produced journalists who hit the ground running.” No wonder alumni sound happier with Medill than the scholars do.

News Bite

A year ago Richard Cahan and his collaborators Michael Williams and Neal Samors brought out a terrific picture book, Real Chicago: Photographs From the Files of the Chicago Sun-Times–the Sun-Times being where Cahan was picture editor until he left to run the Chicago in the Year 2000 project. Now Cahan, Williams, and Samors are back with Real Chicago Sports, more photos from the same files going back to 1930.