UPDATED: This story was revised on May 17, 2016 to include a short bio of the new publisher of the Frontiersman.
In a state where people sometimes seem increasingly intolerant of views other than their own, editorial cartoonists appear headed for the endangered species list.
ADN.com cartoonist Peter Dunlap-Shohl bit the dust long ago. He left the Anchorage Daily News well before the newspaper was purchased by Alaska Dispatch and renamed the Alaska Dispatch News. He was never replaced.
Now he has been joined on the sidelines by Chuck Legge, an award-wining cartoonist for the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman for more than 20 years.
The newspaper explained Legge’s departure with a somewhat disingenuous headline that read “Cartoonist’s departure will allow paper greater flexibility to provide local content.”
Below the headline, an editorial added that “Legge was never shy about his political leanings. According to his own biography, he admits to having a ‘liberal’ bias — something that didn’t always go over well here in a part of the state well known for its conservative views.”
Legge said in a telephone interview that he fully understands the newspaper’s decision and yet doesn’t understand it at all.
“It’s their paper,” he said. “They wanted someone who more reflected the tenor of the Valley. I probably don’t do that.”
On the other hand, he said, the reactions he generated from Frontiersman readers over the years did seem to indicate he got people reading the publication.
“I was kind of happy to piss people off,” he said.
“Legge’s pen has been a double-edged sword at times for us here at the Frontiersman,” the editorial said. “While it’s great to have a local editorial cartoonist (Chuck and his wife live in Sutton), it’s also true that many readers were frequently prodded into complaining about his work. In addition to his admitted biases, Legge also frequently has taken time to skewer national and international politicians and figures. While this is sometimes interesting, it does not fit with the Frontiersman’s philosophy of delivering the best hyper-local content for our readers. We want the paper to reflect community values and tell Valley stories, and having cartoons about national politicians doesn’t always fit that mission.”
The Fontiersman’s response to controversy differs signficantly from that of the Fairbanks New-Miner, which saw cartoonist Jamie Smith come under intense fire last fall for a cartoon questioning guns on university campuses.
The editors of the News-Miner defended the cartoon, arguing that “We strive to provide readers a mix of views, including those the editorial board disagrees with.
“On the matter of guns and gun regulation, we have published numerous letters to the editor and columns over the years on the subject and will continue to do so. The views vary widely, as expected.
“That’s why the opinion pages exist — to be a welcoming platform for a diverse array of views.
“The opinion pages wouldn’t stimulate discussion, wouldn’t help in the debate about public policy, and wouldn’t serve readers well if they were filled with the same general leaning day after day.”
That is a noble, old media view. Whether it and Smith, who appears to be the last newspaper cartoonist standing in the 49th state, can survive the shifting media landscape of today – an virtual landscape sliding toward the political poles – remains to be seen.
Legge is already heading off into that brave, new, electronic world at chucklegge.com
“I’ve got a book, a graphic novel, coming,” he said. “It’s titled Chicken Donald.” Legge calls it a Donald Trump spoof.
As for the Frontiersman, Legge said he wishes its new publisher luck, but fears turning the newspaper into a conservative echo chamber is “a mistake. I think this is just going to make it worse,” he said.
Or not. That will be a matter for the market to decide in the years to come.
Wick Communications in April brought in a new publisher from Outside to steer the Frontiersman into the future. Publisher Dennis Anderson “most recently worked as advertising director at the Montrose Daily Press in Montrose, Colorado,” according to a Frontiersman story.
“Prior to joining Wick in 2004, Anderson worked in the retail store industry for 19 years, including 16 in store management. He also served three years in the U.S. Army.”
He replaced Mark Kelsey, who had a long history in the Mat-Su Valley. Kelsey first went to work for the Frontiersman as sports editor in the mid-1990s, left the paper only to come back as the managing editor from 2005 to 2007. He later left and became the communications coordinator for the state Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development.
He returned to the Frontiersman for the last time in 2011. The reason for his departure this spring was not disclosed.
CORRECTION: This story was revised on June 9, 2016 to reflect that Mark Kelsey was the communications coordinator for the state Department of Commerce not the communications director.