Kevin P. Kallaugher's long career as staff editorial cartoonist for The Sun ended Friday.
"KAL," as he has signed his cartoons for 17 years at The Sun, is one of America's best editorial cartoonists and a prominent member of Baltimore's media community. His departure is a signal loss to the newspaper, where editorial cartooning has flourished for more than a century.
With the resignation of longtime columnist Michael Olesker over issues of journalism practices and the retirement via buyout of nationally known environmental writer Tom Horton, Kallaugher's departure comes at a time when a number of readers believe The Sun is losing some of its most distinctive voices.
"I understand the difference between Michael Olesker's departure and those of KAL and Tom Horton," said reader Nadine Weinstein. "But together, it is a big blow for Sun readers to absorb all at once. They are such a big part of The Sun's identity."
Kallaugher is one of more than 70 Sun employees who accepted a buyout as part of the newspaper's recent staff reduction.
The cartoonist said last week that at first he considered the offer a formality - buyouts were offered to virtually everyone in the editorial page department to give anyone considering a career change the chance to participate - but said he was surprised when he discussed the offer with Editorial Page Editor Dianne Donovan.
"Dianne made it clear that the future of the editorial cartoonist position at The Sun was uncertain," Kallaugher said. "She said it was not an issue of the quality of my work but a long-term financial and staffing issue. I appreciated her honesty. I was incredulous at the time, but it got to me thinking very seriously about my future."
Donovan confirmed that she discussed these issues with Kallaugher.
The newspaper has no current plans to fill the cartoonist position. This is in line with the trend of U.S. newspapers eliminating editorial cartoonist jobs. Over the past two decades the number of full-time newspaper staff cartoonists has declined from about 200 to about 80, according to Clay Bennett, president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists.
Bennett, the staff cartoonist for The Christian Science Monitor, said: "Many of these jobs were lost in the past two decades simply because many newspapers were lost. But in the past few years the job loss among cartoonists can be attributed to an economic decision that publishers of newspaper chains make."
The Sun's corporate owner, Tribune Co., is in the forefront of these developments. In recent weeks, the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune-owned newspaper, fired cartoonist Michael Ramirez (with no plans to replace him) and offered cartoonist Bob Engelhart of the Hartford Courant a buyout (he declined to accept it). The Chicago Tribune has not employed a staff editorial cartoonist since Jeff MacNelly died in 2000.
What has emerged is a perception that Tribune Co. is targeting these positions because, as Kallaugher said, "it does not value the special contribution a resident cartoonist brings to their newspapers."
These events prompted the cartoonist association's Web site to launch "Black Ink Monday," where 100 cartoonists worldwide produced cartoons often critical of Tribune. The collection included one from former Sun editorial cartoonist Mike Lane, who took a buyout in 2004.
The Web site also posted the e-mail address of Tribune's vice president/corporate communications, Gary Weitman, encouraging readers to complain to him directly.
Weitman responded to all the e-mails: "Tribune has always had great respect for the profession of editorial cartooning. Our newspapers make their own, independent decisions about running editorial cartoons and employing editorial cartoonists."
Kallaugher's 17-year career at The Sun was part of a tradition of excellence in editorial cartooning at the newspaper. Most notable was Edmund Duffy, who won three Pulitzer Prizes between 1930 and 1939.
The KAL signature is a highly recognizable name in Maryland, and his work has appeared in newspapers and magazines throughout the world. He has also been a voice of The Sun, often spending hours working with students and talking to community groups.
"There are few journalists in a newsroom who define the tone and identity of a publication like an editorial cartoonist can," said Bennett. "Kevin Kallaugher's departure is not just bad for journalism, it's not just bad for a vigorous public debate, it's bad for business."
Editorial Page Editor Donovan said: "Having worked with KAL for four years, I have great appreciation of his wide-ranging skills and talents. He will be greatly missed on The Sun's editorial page."
Donovan notes, however, that the current economic pressures on newspapers make the immediate future uncertain and staffing decisions especially difficult. She said chances of hiring a new editorial cartoonist in the near future were slim.
"I hope The Sun will be able to work out something with KAL so his cartoons will appear on the editorial page periodically," Donovan said. At present, no formal arrangement has been reached.
As for Kallaugher, he will continue to produce cartoons for The Economist magazine and will work on mastering 3-D animation, with the goal of developing content for the Internet and working with filmmakers on animated TV programming.
"I plan to take a sabbatical from cartooning except for The Economist work for a few months," Kallaugher said. "So I won't be in The Sun in any form after Saturday's retrospective for some time. I want readers to recognize that I am really gone."
I am sure they will.
From reader Elizabeth Downs: "Contemplating The Sun without KAL is rather like contemplating Baltimore without The Sun."
Paul Moore's column appears Sundays.