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Posted at 11:30 AM ET, 04/ 3/2009

The Twitter Interview: Political Cartoonist Mike Thompson

By Michael Cavna

Detroit Free Press political cartoonist MIKE THOMPSON has deep roots in old media. He's worked as a print cartoonist in multiple newsrooms; his current newspaper has just curbed some home delivery; and he's now with a new syndicate (Creators) after his previous syndicate (Copley News Service) folded up shop. But Thompson is enough of a realist in journalism's changing environment that he decided to build a blog, hone his animation and even, more recently, dip into the world of Twitter. Or in his own words: "Evolve or die."

Thompson -- who's quoted in our Post print story, too -- discusses his social networking with Comic Riffs:

MICHAEL CAVNA: What's your experience with Twitter been like so far, Mike? Do you spend much time tweeting?
MIKE THOMPSON: I tweet on the account for my editorial page, FreepOpinion,on a daily basis, or whenever I post a new blog rant, er, entry. However, I make a point of never Tweeting about my personal goings on. There's so much useless information out there, I don't need to be adding to the sludge pile.

MC: Do you see Twitter a serious social force that's here to say, or
gimmicky time-suck fad that will go the way of Beta tapes and, oh, Friendster?

MT: Twitter is probably like the early versions of AOL which introduced millions to the Internet. Social networking services are here to stay, but like AOL, they will evolve, and be a launching pad for readers who will eventually move on to better and more sophisticated services as they are developed. This trend is for real, like it or not, so it makes sense to get in on the ground floor.

MC: As print journalism shifts and transforms and spasms amid broader changes, do you think Twitter is something more cartoonists will turn to, in order to connect with readers?
MT: My attitude is evolve or die. I've read any number of stories about the popularity of social networking services such as Twitter. Increasingly, this is how people are getting their news and are being made aware of news. Since the goal is to attract readers, then it makes sense to go where potential readers are.

MC: How do you see most of your newspaper cartooning colleagues reacting to Twitter, then? Are they embracing it out of fun and/or necessity? (Perhaps even a necessary evil?) Or are most keeping it at arm's length?MT: I honestly haven't paid a lot of attention to what other cartoonists are doing in this regard, I'm still trying to find ways to make the service work for what I'm trying to accomplish. Everyone's job in the news business is changing, the goal is to remain relevant in this new landscape. The worst thing someone in my position could do would be to wait for someone to tell you your new role. It's not going to happen. You need to be proactive and carve out new niches for yourself. Twitter limits you to 140 character "Tweets" so that does limit what you're able to do with the service.

MC: Of course, most staff cartoonists I know are exceedingly busy these days.
MT: Everyone is busy these days. And they said technology would make our lives easier, right? Like everything else about my job, once you've done it for a while, you get a whole lot faster and adept.

MC: Do you see constructive ways in which cartoonists are using Twitter and not just as "just brushed my teeth" personal micro-journals? That is: Are any of your cartooning colleagues using it especially WELL?
MT: The goal is to get eyeballs on your work. Any service that helps accomplish that goal should be embraced.

MC: So, is there anyone -- and not just within cartooning -- that you follow fairly regularly on Twitter?
MT: Besides myself, no. Like most people on Twitter, I'm endlessly fascinated with myself -- which leaves little time to follow others.

(NOTE: For cartoon updates, everyone but the admittedly solipsistic Mike Thompson is encouraged to follow Comic Riffs at

By Michael Cavna  | April 3, 2009; 11:30 AM ET
Categories:  Interviews With Cartoonists  
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