David Horsey: How a Cartoonist Survives If Ink Newspaper Dies
It's D-Day for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. With Hearst's stated 60-day window to find a buyer set to close tomorrow, the storied, historic P-I faces the shuttering of its print newspaper -- short of a Microsoft billionaire or some other moneybagged hero galloping in at the eleventh hour.
The newspaper's editorial cartoonist, DAVID HORSEY, however,
is better situated than most of his newsroom colleagues -- as well as many newspaper cartoonists. Largely because of the structure of Horsey's employment setup, the two-time Pulitzer winner knows this: His job, in some form, is safe.
In the first part of a two-part interview (Part 2 will publish tomorrow), Horsey talks with Comic Riffs about the print P-I's likely last chapter, the future of an online-only P-I, and how he created a highly trafficked Web site (it reportedly gets more than a million page views monthly) that has positioned him well on a rapidly shifting media landscape.
MICHAEL CAVNA: Given your perch from the inside, David, what do you think will unfold for the P-I in the days ahead, and how will that affect your job?
DAVID HORSEY: I'm in an unusual situation, unlike [cartoonist] Ed Stein, whose job ended [when Denver's Rocky Mountain News closed]. ... The print version of the P-I is probably going to see its final edition in the next [eight] days or less. The Web site is hiring [some]. As for me, in the last few years, I've ... been employed directly by Hearst Newspapers instead of the Seattle P-I.
MC:So might you in, in effect, be drawing for other Hearst papers, too?
DH: It looks like I will be providing my work to all of the Hearst newspapers, though I'll be based here at the [P-I] Web site. Hearst has 16 daily newspapers -- well, for now, counting the P-I. My work will primarily go to Web sites and will be available for print versions.
MC:So how has being employed by Hearst affected your online presence?
DH:Well, one fortunate thing for me is that Hearst had this idea to create channels within the Web site, and that pulled me out of the editorial page and created DavidHorsey.com. And I've been doing a lot more writing as well as cartoons. That created me as a separate entity that can be plugged into any Web site. I'm not sure logistically how that will happen now -- I think I'll be linked to [the Hearst newspapers in] Houston, to Albany, to Laredo, to San Francisco. I think Hearst finally decided that it's time to [push] online newspapers.
MC:Beyond your obvious talent, then, it seems you've either had great vision or benefitted from Hearst's decisions -- or both.
DH: I've been quite fortunate and the timing has been right. Part of it goes back to my first job as a reporter -- now it's the other way around. [Writing columns] has helped me expand online. They're looking at me as a "multimedia commentator" rather than than as "just" a cartoonist.
MC: What's the mood like in the newsroom -- including among your colleagues who have guaranteed jobs in the new online newsroom?
DH:It's a painful time for everybody, even for somebody like me. It's just awful. The fact that in a different format, the Seattle P-I will continue [has made it more difficult in some ways]. There will be a few jobs in the reconstituted Web site -- but who are the chosen ones, and what are they being offered? It's going to be a new entity. They'll be paying online salaries instead of newspaper salaries. ...
I've only spent a week in Seattle since Jan. 14 [because of business trips], and I haven't had to witness the agony. ... I expect a similar scenario to occur all over the country. If this had happened 10 years at the P-I, people would have mourned but gone on to other newspapers -- it's just, "Gosh, I have to leave for another paper." Now, it's: "But gosh, this may be the end of my journalism career."
MC:So with Hearst's sale deadline upon us, do you hold out any hope at all for a last-minute buyer?
DH: There haven't been any serious prospects. ... [laughing as he jokes] Maybe some crazy Microsoft billionaire.
MC:Just the other day, I heard a commentator say that Paul Allen should spend more of his billions on worthy causes.
DH:His name came almost immediately [in January]. He does like to buy toys. The complication in Seattle is that we're a JOA [Joint Operating Agreement] with the [Seattle] Times, and you would be buying sort of the junior partner -- the P-I is a newsroom, we don't have presses. ... He'd probably wait until the Times went on the market, because it's a more complete package. ... If you're buying the P-I to get the Web site, that might be worth it.
It's such a shaky thing -- to own newspapers. It's just not too attractive. ... And if I wanted to start a news Web site, I'd start it fresh and unencumbered by hiring [talented] journalists who've been thrown out of work.
| March 9, 2009; 7:30 AM ET
Categories: Interviews With Cartoonists, The Political Cartoon
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