Fifteen years ago, Tampa Bay had an abundance of riches in editorial cartoonists. The St. Petersburg Times had two on staff: Clay Bennett, who made his mark with sharp-penned social and political comments, and Don Addis, whose work had a lighter, wackier touch. The Tampa Tribune had Wayne Stayskal, who infuriated liberals with his strongly social-conservative drawings.
Today, both papers are without a cartoonist on staff.
"In fact, we've been looking" to hire, said Tim Nickens, the deputy editor of editorials at the Times. "For more than a year, we've been fishing around. It's a little bit on hold as we see how the finances go for the first quarter."
The Times has done without since August 2004, when Addis retired after 40 years at the paper and the now-defunct Evening Independent. Bennett was fired a decade before that (he says it was because of his liberal politics; Times editors denied it), and some current staffers fondly recall the day they formed a line of support and handshakes for him as he left the building.
The Tribune has been without a cartoonist since June 2006, when Paul Combs left to return to the Midwest. At the time of his departure, editorial page editor Rosemary Goudreau wrote "we hope to have another cartoonist on board by the end of the summer." She could not be reached for comment on the progress of that search.
Nickens said the response to the Times' search has been strong, and he has "a huge stack of stuff sitting here." He said the role of the editorial cartoonist at the local newspaper is still important, despite advances in the Internet that allow anyone to access cartoons that don't see print.
"I would argue that it is as least important now as it was then, for one main reason: local commentary," Nickens said. "I think it's still a viable piece of commentary that the whole market can use."
As an example, less than 24 hours after an election in which strip club owner Joe Redner lost a high profile bid for public office, Nickens bemoaned: "I don't have anybody to draw a Tampa City Council cartoon today."