History of journalism: Cartoons showing anxieties of print journalists in the 1950s.

Midcentury Cartoons for Worried Print Journalists 

Midcentury Cartoons for Worried Print Journalists 

The Vault
Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
Aug. 10 2015 11:07 AM

Midcentury Cartoons for Worried Print Journalists 

In the late 1950s, TV news was on the rise, as more and more Americans (nearly 90 percent of them, in fact) were buying sets. As broadcasters competed with print journalists for breaking news, writers for newspapers and magazines were rethinking their role as storytellers and interpreters.

Sigma Delta Chi, later known as the Society of Professional Journalists, recognized this. The Quill, its magazine for reporters and editors, confronted the occupation’s many challenges. From embracing discussions of technological change, to discussing journalistic failings (like how to handle the next Sen. Joe McCarthy) and encouraging its members to mentor younger journalists, the organization and others like it played a big part in the professionalization of the field.

Cartoons in The Quill poked fun at newsroom life. Occupational humor, often of the gallows variety, was (and remains) a critical way for journalists to think about their profession. Cartoons also appeared in abundance in other trade publications, such as in the American Newspaper Guild’s Guild Reporter and Editor & Publisher. The former championed labor, and the latter presented publishers' point of view. 

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The Quill walked a middle path. Its cartoons, some unsigned and others bylined, depict the inhabitants of the newsroom going about their daily business. The humor had a light, earnestly innocent feel. Sigma Delta Chi’s members also included broadcast journalists, but the cartoons were drawn mostly from the perspective of print reporters.

In one cartoon, from April 1959, a TV news anchor is shown dancing, singing and playing guitar on his set. Quill cartoonists often poked fun at the gimmicks of TV news, which print reporters thought needed show-business slickness to sell its presentation of the facts. Another cartoon, from December 1958, features a wise-cracking crew member commenting on how an anchor could shave, read the news, and announce the show’s sponsor all at the same time—drawing a contrast between appearance-centric TV news people and earthy, even disheveled, print reporters. 

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The Quill, April 1959.

Courtesy of the Society of Professional Journalists

June 1958 -- 'Low Society Editor' -- 'The Quill'
The Quill, June 1958.

Courtesy of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Dec. 1958 -- never wastes a second -- 'The Quill'
The Quill, December 1957.

Courtesy of the Society of Professional Journalists.

June 1959 -- 'tireless prospector' -- 'The Quill'
The Quill, June 1959.

Courtesy of the Society of Professional Journalists.

April 1958 -- 'Goodnight, Boss' -- 'Quill'
The Quill, April 1958.

Courtesy of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Will Mari is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Washington, working on a social history of the American newsroom in the 20th century for his dissertation. You can find him on Twitter @willthewordguy.