Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Chronic cans their best asset

Nick Anderson, the Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist at the Houston Chronicle, must update his resume' to 'formerly' at the Houston Chronicle.

Always the class act, here are his parting words:

I have an unfortunate announcement: Today is my last day at The Houston Chronicle. My position was eliminated. Much has been written about the reduction of staff editorial cartoonists at newspapers (along with print journalists in general) and today, the odds caught up with me. Ironically, thanks to social media, my cartoons are seen more widely than ever.

One cartoon I posted during the heat of the presidential election campaign last year was shared around 550,000 times on Facebook alone, and those were just the ones I could track. I was at a wedding in New York around that time. The woman sitting next to me asked me what I did for a living. I told her, and she said, "Oh, I saw your cartoon on Facebook today." She pulled out her phone and there it was. Thanks to the internet and social media, the reach of editorial cartoons has never been greater.

While the internet and social media help spread my work widely, they also have made it harder for anyone in the news business to make a living. I was able to drive significant traffic to my employer's web site at times, but not on the same scale as the Facebook traffic. And traffic alone isn't enough anymore. Newspapers are moving to a subscriber/paywall model. Unfortunately, the powers that be decided a full-time cartoonist was not going to be a part of that model.

I've had a good run, and I'm grateful to been a political cartoonist for so long. I've been extremely fortunate in my professional career. I really want to thank my readers for their encouragement, comments, and feedback. Even the insults and disagreements have been appreciated.

But you're not rid of me yet. I'm still syndicated with The Washington Post Writers Group. I’ll continue to draw 3 to 4 cartoons a week for the foreseeable future and, hopefully, for many years to come. Meanwhile, please feel free to let me know of any opportunities that you think would be a good fit, inside or outside of journalism.

One last note: I called our Human Resources department earlier this year to see about getting more vacation time -- be careful what you wish for...

As you may know, the Chronic is owned by Hearst, which long ago employed yours truly as an advertising executive.  I prepared budgets for three of their smaller newspapers at a time (mid- to late Eighties) when they were running profit margins between 30 and 40%.  Newspapers don't make that kind of money any more, but they don't lose money unless they're going head-to-head in a single market, which is how joint operating agreements came into being back in my day and before.  Even those legal and political machinations don't make enough cash for their corporate overlords any longer, and many of the weaker papers have died or gone paperless, like the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (which Hearst also owns).

The Chronic has laid off staff a few times over the past ten years, sold their downtown office for its high real estate value, watched costly talent like Ken Hoffman bail out for objecting to the paywall model, and now has eliminated the last reason for reading that newspaper.  Truly the best thing they had going, in their last-gasp quest to maintain what is probably only a 10 or 15% profit margin.  Their Austin/Lege coverage has face-planted, their DC bureau is invisible; it's like they've given up on reporting in exchange for photo slideshows on the free site.  I find it embarrassing to have watched the paper fall so far as the result of the decisions made by their consistently weak and excessively staffed management.  There's at least three times the number of managers that there was thirty years ago.  For what?  To do what?  Drive the business further into the ground?

Positively disgraceful.  My subscription has already been canceled.  Nick Anderson will be just fine, but the Houston Chronicle is sinking faster than Hillary Clinton's poll numbers on the day before Election Day.


Gadfly said...

Still trying to escape that journalistic world myself. Still unsuccessful so far.

Gadfly said...

Oh, as for profits? In my one stint as a publisher, non-daily world, I was able run a profit margin of a bit over 10 percent in Marlin freaking Texas.