Jul 13, 2023 - Culture

The Observer lays off a Pulitzer-winning journalist

Charlotte Observer editorial cartoonist Kevin Siers, right, is lauded be Editorial Page Editor Taylor Batten in the newsroom, after it was announced that Siers had been awarded the Pulitzer Award for Editorial Cartooning on April 14, 2014. (David T. Foster III/Charlotte Observer/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

The Charlotte Observer is laying off its Pulitzer-winning cartoonist, longtime journalist Kevin Siers.

In a memo to staffers this week, opinions editor Peter St. Onge said that the Observer’s end of daily opinion cartoons is “part of the continued evolution of our business.”

  • “We made this decision based on changing reader habits and our relentless focus on providing the communities we serve with local news and information they can’t get elsewhere,” St. Onge wrote.
  • The decision also affects Sacramento’s Jack Ohman, another Pulitzer Prize-winning opinion cartoonist.

Yes, but: McClatchy is adding an opinion columnist, Issac Bailey, a regular contributor, as a full-time Carolinas-based staffer this summer, executive editor Rana Cash told Axios.

Why it matters: Siers’ departure marks the latest round of bad news for Charlotte’s newspaper of record. Months after parent company McClatchy declared bankruptcy in 2020, the newspaper chain was acquired by Chatham Asset Management, a New Jersey-based hedge fund.

  • In the years since, McClatchy, including the papers it owns like the Observer, has seen staffs further deteriorate.

[Analysis: The Charlotte Observer’s owner filed for bankruptcy. What will that mean for Charlotte?]

Zoom out: Last year, Observer staffers unionized in hopes of negotiating better pay and working conditions.

  • “Too many talented colleagues” have left the paper in recent years, per the Charlotte Observer News Guild’s mission statement.
  • According to the guild, at least 13 Observer journalists (non-editor guild members) have left the paper in the last year.
  • “Many positions have been sitting vacant for months, leaving important beats uncovered and placing undue burdens on other members of the newsroom,” the guild wrote on Twitter Tuesday.

Between the lines: Siers began drawing cartoons for the Observer in 1987, according to the Charlotte Ledger, which first reported the news. Siers’ 2014 Pulitzer is the Observer’s most recent of its five total wins.

  • Siers is widely known as a fearless journalist who’d criticize people, organizations and politicians from across the spectrum.
  • One of his most iconic cartoons in recent years depicted Queen Charlotte holding up a shattered mirror labeled “SELF IMAGE” in the wake of the 2016 protests that followed the police shooting of Keith Scott.
Reprinted with permission by Kevin Siers.

What they’re saying: “We are frustrated and disappointed to learn that @McClatchy has chosen to lay off one of our most veteran staffers — with less than two weeks’ notice,” the Observer News Guide tweeted this week.

  • “Being able to work at the same newspaper for almost 36 years has been an incredible run in this business, and I’ve been more fortunate than many of my fellow editorial cartoonists in this changing newspaper climate,” Siers wrote on Facebook Wednesday.
  • He declined to comment further.

Of note: Observer reporter and editor Mike Gordon is retiring around Aug. 1 after more than three decades at the paper, per the Ledger.

Editor’s note: Katie Peralta Soloff worked at the Charlotte Observer for four-and-a-half years as a business reporter.

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