Papers Dropping Doonsbury
Editor and Publisher – Continental: Complaints Led to Drop-‘Doonesbury’ Poll
A poll that resulted in a vote to drop “Doonesbury” was defended by the head of a Sunday-comics consortium. “It was not a political statement of any kind,” Continental Features President Van Wilkerson told E&P. “I personally don’t have an opinion about ‘Doonesbury’ one way or another.” Wilkerson said he conducted the survey because Garry Trudeau’s comic “created more controversy than other strips.” In the poll e-mail he sent Continental’s newspaper clients this spring, Wilkerson wrote: “(I)t is my feeling that a change in one of the features is required. I have fielded numerous complaints about ‘Doonesbury’ in the past and feel it is time to drop this feature and add another in its place. … If the majority of the group favors a replacement, you will be expected to accept that change.”
Of the 38 papers that run the Continental-produced Sunday comics section, 21 wanted to drop “Doonesbury,” 15 wanted to keep it, and two had no opinion or preference. “I wouldn’t call the vote [to drop ‘Doonesbury’] overwhelming, but it was a majority opinion,” Wilkerson said.
One of the 15 papers, The Anniston (Ala.) Star (Click for QuikCap), expressed public dismay with the vote yesterday — saying the decision amounted to censorship. In an E&P interview after that article appeared, Star Executive Editor Troy Turner said: “Sure, ‘Doonesbury’ causes editors headaches from time to time, but there is a proven readership for it. Newspapers need to think of readers first, or they will continue to struggle.” . . . If Continental does pull “Doonesbury” from the package, “we will find a way to run it in the Sunday paper,” said Star Editorial Page Editor Bob Davis. He noted that the Star already publishes the daily “Doonesbury” in an unusual locale: the back page of the “A” section.
As previously reported, Star Publisher H. Brandt Ayers e-mailed Wilkerson to say he and his paper’s editors “strongly object to an obviously political effort to silence a minority point of view. For years, my New Deal father bore the opposition views of Orphan Annie and Daddy Warbucks, and I believe he would have fought an effort to silence them a by a simple majority vote. This is wrong, offensive to First Amendment freedoms.”
The Anniston Star was, essentially, my home town paper. I read it during high school and parts of college. It was also the place where my first letters to the editor appeared, not counting school papers. Ayers is very much an old school liberal–very atypical for Anniston, Alabama–but always strived to be fair to those with an opposing view. Indeed, the views expressed in my letters were always pointedly contrary to his and I hadn’t yet developed the gentle, polite, non-confrontational tone that would characterize my later writing. He published each and every one.
I stopped reading Doonesbury years ago because it just isn’t funny anymore. But, surely, individual papers can decide whether it’s something their readers want. Many papers put it on the op-ed page with the editorial cartoons rather than with the funnies, which is probably a good decision.
See ‘Anniston Star’ Protests Dropping of ‘Doonesbury’ for the back story.