The New York Times, which doesn’t have an editorial cartoonist and dropped their weekly round-up of syndicated editorial cartoons years ago, recently announced a contest for budding, young, student editorial cartoonists, who may grow up to not be published in the New York Times.

NYtimesClipThis story is so tone deaf and ironic that I had to write a bit about it. A judge of the contest is my cartoonist buddy, Patrick Chappatte, pictured at right, who draws for the New York Times owned “International New York Times” which was formerly the “International Herald Tribune.” Patrick lives and works from his home in Switzerland.

The Times runs a lot of illustrations on their editorial pages, and these may look like editorial cartoons to readers, but illustrations are done to the specifications of the client, and are usually depicting the ideas of the writer of the columns that the art accompanies. Editorial cartoonists are like visual columnists, we draw our own ideas, something that clearly makes editors at the New York Times feel uncomfortable.

There are two famous, unattributed quotes from NY Times editors:

1) We would never hire an editorial cartoonist because we would never give so much power to one man.

2) We would never hire an editorial cartoonist because you can’t edit and editorial cartoonist like you can a writer.

Most of the syndicated cartoonists submitted their work to the Times back when they did a weekly “round-up.” The Times would pick perhaps three cartoons, and paid $50.00 each, but only if the cartoonist noticed that they ran his cartoon, and sent them an invoice. When I asked them about this system, they told me that they expect everyone to read the Times, so, of-course, everyone would notice if a cartoon was used.

Suppose I placed a standing order with McDonalds; I would instruct McDonalds to deliver a hamburger to me every day at lunch time. I may or may not choose to eat the hamburger, and if I choose to eat it I’ll pay for it, but only if someone from McDonalds sees me eating it and asks me to pay. Cartoonists went along with a plan that McDonalds would never countenance.

Sometime after dropping their round-up, editors at the Times had second thoughts. They had conducted surveys where readers responded that they missed seeing editorial cartoons in the Times, so the Times decided to bring the round-up back, but this time, without paying the pesky $50.00 fee to the cartoonists. They sent emails to the top cartoonists, inviting them to submit again, for the privilege and exposure that having a cartoon in the Times would bring them.

To their credit, my colleagues revolted, with most of them responding in emails to the Times that they would not submit cartoons for no payment and the Times dropped the idea.

And that’s where we are with traditional editorial cartoons in the New York Times – America’s newspaper of record; they could have any of the best editorial cartoonists jump at the opportunity to work for them, but, alas, we’re not worth $50.00.

The biggest circulation newspaper in America, The Wall Street Journal, doesn’t have an editorial cartoonist either. At least USA Today still pays $50.00 for a cartoon.