A sad announcement from the World Press Cartoon this week, as their main funder has pulled out, making the 2023 edition of the award highly uncertain. This is the second time in recent history that the WPC has had to scurry to find new funding to continue its operations.
In 2021, I wrote an editorial about why awards for editorial cartoons matter. But in these time we live in, it seems not many other people see the need to celebrate the value of political satire. Earlier this year, the Pulitzer did away the 'Editorial Cartoon' category, renaming it 'Illustrated Reporting and Commentary'. The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists complained, but I am not sure they ever received a response, nor do I believe the Pulitzer Board will reverse its decision any time soon. The UN Political Cartoon Award died in its sleep a few years ago. One glimmer of light is the launch of European Cartoon Award by the European Press Prize a couple of years ago, but its future is far from secure (which I will get back to a little later on in this editorial).
Should we just accept that (international) awards for editorial cartoons are more and more rare? Or is there a way to increase this number, or at least safeguard the existing ones? Those who've read some of my editorials know I consider political cartooning to be a form of journalism. In my opinion, cartoonists should always be part of the journalistic association or union in their country. They should have a press card. First of all for their safety, but also for how their work is seen and valued. And maybe we should extend this to the way cartoons are awarded.
A simple Google search shows that there's a multitude of awards for journalism. I would argue that we need to integrate political cartoon awards with journalistic awards as much as possible. Although the Pulitzers present a problematic example right now (for the reason given above), the basic idea of having or political cartoons be a category in a journalistic award is a sound one, for two reasons. One, it would give more value to the political cartoon, as a vital part of journalism. Second, it would present a far more secure situation in terms of funding and continuity. It's easier to defund an award just for cartoons than it is to defund a broad journalistic award.
If we, as cartoonists and organizers of cartooning awards, were to decide this is the right direction, there is still a long way to go. Journalists and journalistic award organizers often do not consider cartoonists to be true journalists. This is probably the reason the European Cartoon Award is separate from the general European Press Prizes. It also makes it a lot easier to discontinue or defund the ECA, as this will not impact the other EPP in any way. On the other side of the spectrum, there are also some cartoon awards have a reputation and legacy that they're not willing to give up by joining a more general journalistic award.
This is, for instance, the case for the Dutch cartoon award (the Inktspotprijs); the Dutch Association of Journalists would be more than happy to make this award part of their annual journalist awards, but the organizers of the Inktspotprijs and cartoonists fear this will mean losing the unique character of the Inktspotprijs. That might be true. But I still believe that, in the long run, editorial cartoonists will be better off joining journalists. Both in general and specifically when it comes to awards.