The Interview: Steve Greenberg: Life as a Pink-Slipped Political Cartoonist
In this time of unremitting layoffs and buyouts of newspaper cartoonists, multi-talented artist STEVE GREENBERG still figured his position at the Ventura (Calif.) County Star was one of the safest in the nation. After all, Greenberg -- as a one-man art department -- was doing it all at a smaller-market paper: political cartoons, informational graphics, Web work, illustrations and the like.
So it came as a genuine shock to him when the day after the election, Greenberg -- who has worked at a number of newspapers -- was handed his pink slip, effective Nov. 30. In this way, though, Greenberg is like so many of his cartooning colleagues: perched in precarious jobs at downsizing newspapers.
Comic Riffs caught up with Greenberg in recent days to discuss his career, his outlook and his plans.
MICHAEL CAVNA: Given the many hats you wear at the Star, how surprised were you to get this news?
STEVE GREENBERG: I thought I was the safest person in the industry -- other than [the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's widely syndicated] Mike Luckovich. Of the rank-and-file cartoonists, I thought I was about the safest because it wasn't a full-time position.
Since February, the Star was down to a one-man art department -- me. And I'm probably the only person at my paper who had visibility beyond the immediate market.
MC: Did you have any indication that this was coming?
SG: Not at all. I just got a great performance evaluation. They told me that this was not about the quality of the work.
MC: How did you get the news?
SG: It was Wednesday [the day after the election] -- late in the day. There were two meetings going on. In one room, we were getting laid off; in the other room, they were being told that their coworkers were getting laid off.
MC: And had you been hired as an editorial cartoonist?
SG: I created my last two or three positions based on doing informational graphics -- I turned graphics-only positions into editorial-cartoonist positions.
MC: As you face the job market, how do you see the outlook now for newspaper cartoonists?
SG: Cartoon positions are disappearing, probably forever. I believe it's very counterproductive for newspapers to cut their best visual people, praying that the Internet will save them. Visuals, humor, irreverence are important. They're cutting the people who are in the best position to help them survive.
Online may be the only remaining place for cartooning to really survive -- it's about the only growth industry for cartooning. I think the daily newspaper is not going to be a particularly viable form for cartooning in the future.
MC: You've been in journalism for decades -- can you speak to what it's like, watching this change occur?
SG: It's absolutely heartbreaking to see the industry declining and this sea change: that the bedrock institution of the newspaper might not survive ... it's mind-boggling. All the old assumptions are out the window. We must be flexible, adapt to change and do what one needs to do.
MC: So where do you look from here?
SG: I'm just starting to sort out the possibilities. I'm looking at diverse things: Can I create a Web comic? Can I [create] informational graphics for a business? ...
I'm 54 years old and I've got to reinvent myself.
| November 17, 2008; 11:00 AM ET
Categories: Interviews With Cartoonists
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