You might have heard the hammering this week of the final nail in the coffin of a well-known cartoonist's career with the Province newspaper. After more than 30 years, Bob Krieger joined the legions of other Vancouver Sun and Province reporters who took the buyout. Jumped before they were pushed, basically.
This is all about loss. And the city's two-paid-dailies-in-one-company knows about losses. You can almost hear the flushing sound of the whole print industry swirling out of sight. (More here.)
Krieger earned his full-time union salary by his deft drawing hand, his keen wit and his honed sense of social justice. His signature squat, cross-hatched caricatures that graced the editorial pages four days a week boosted the Province brand since he was first hired on in 1981. The sweetly scorching one-panel works graced many a staffroom fridge and coffeeshop corkboard. Gone viral, old-timey style.
But Krieger's departure is less about company losses and more about what he sees as newspaper politics. He calls 'em as he sees 'em but increasingly his ideas became just... wrong in the judgment of his bosses. While it's understandable that hemorraging newspaper revenues might have a chilling effect on editorial, hacking away at a healthy dose of opinion on the opinion page is a sure-fire way to lose readers. There might be a lot of industry stats that could counter that claim, but anecdotal evidence shows that when Krieger's art was eventually moved from the Editorial page to Sports, those of us who don't speak Sportuguese stopped seeking him out. One less drawer, one less draw to the paper.
There seems to be a major logic gap here. If the publisher really is all about re-focusing toward a web-based 'paper' (read the leaked memo to staff here) then a hot one-shot original cartoon image created by a local artist carries hefty potential for page hits by local readers, whose attention local advertisers are trying to capture. If we are to assume that this is a pretty basic strategy for building readership and advertising for a regional... uh, reading product, then some other agenda is behind showing the door to this editorial artist.
Artistic expression isn't tied to the promise of wealth — this insanely pricey city's strong arts community is proof of that — but the suppression of expression can be a killer. Something died at the Province when Krieger left last week. And it's starting to stink.
Above: Some of Krieger's favourites, used by permission.