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Posted at 11:00 AM ET, 11/17/2008

The Interview: Steve Greenberg: Life as a Pink-Slipped Political Cartoonist

By Michael Cavna

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.

STEVE GREENBERG: During election week, the cartoonist created this engaging illustration. Enlarge Comic

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.

By Michael Cavna  | November 17, 2008; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  Interviews With Cartoonists  
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Setting aside the issue of how much the Ventura County Star will lose its voice within the community by laying off such a talented editorial cartoonist, I have to wonder what the paper will **look** like, with its one-person graphics department gone. Since print is a visual medium, is the Star in fact just giving up on the concept that people might actually buy the print paper and look at it?

I was very much impressed by a graphic than ran on the front page of the Post a couple of days before the recent election. It shows how many electoral votes were firmly lined up by each candidate and many were leaning toward each candidate. The graph was broken down by states, and each of the four categories (strongly or weakly in each candidate's camp) was divided into half, to fit into the diagram. Since the number of electoral votes cast by each state of course varies greatly, breaking down each of the four categories in such a way that they neatly divided in hal, required a **lot** of effort to decide which state to place in each half, so that they would be nearly even. The graphic was done with amazing skill, so that each category did in fact split exactly in half, expect for an unbalance of one single electoral vote. The care that went into the visual design of that graphic, so that it told in a glance exactly where each candidate stood and which states would be "must-wins", allowed it to convey a whole newspaper story's worth of information in just one picture. If papers release their graphics staff, how will they be able to convey such information visually? Will we be doomed to nothing more than USA Today-style pie charts and line graphs, that look as if they were produced in 10 minutes by some grade-school kid using Excel?

Posted by: seismic-2 | November 17, 2008 12:05 PM | Report abuse

Note to CAVNA: Let's have a followup with Steve in a year to see how he makes out.

Thank you.

Posted by: MSchafer | November 18, 2008 10:50 AM | Report abuse

It is a pity to see what is happening to the print media today but the newspapers have brought it upon themselves. The victims are the employees and the public.
The print media has lost its way. Where is the fourth estate exposing corruption? No where to be seen in Ventura County.
I have presented to the Star reporters over the years evidence of corruption in the City of Oxnard and it is never in print.
The Star has wrapped its arms around one of the most corrupt governments of its size in California.
One might suggest that I am a nut case but my allegatiions have led to three Grand Jury investigations that substantiated those allegations and I filed a lawsuit based on a Brown Act violation of California and won.
What does it take to convince a local newspaer of ones credibility?
So the print media and the public loses out because journalism todsay does not accept truthfull muckraking as legitimate.
The public loses out because corrupt politicians stay in office. The truth not being reported as to how the taxpayers money is being wasted on public/private enterprises. All the while someone is making hundreds or millions of dollars.
Before the ship completely sinks maybe the print media in its one last gasp try investigative journalism instead of being a friend to the local Chamber of Commerce inform the taxpayer what is going on.
Martin Jones

Posted by: oxalis123hjotmailcom | November 18, 2008 6:59 PM | Report abuse

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