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- 1 of 2
The New Age Commits Jermicide
NEWSPAPER EXTINGUISHES ITS MAVERICK CARTOONIST
The New Age, the national newspaper which launched in December 2010 with an editorial policy with a declared bias towards the ruling party, has terminated its contract with its inaugural editorial cartoonist.
Jeremy Nell (pen-named JERM) joined the newspaper after a three year stint at Avusa’s new daily ‘The Times’, where he had filled a pocket sized space with cartoons that were begging for more room to express themselves.
When the opportunity arose to draw for The New Age, Jerm seized it because, he says, it afforded him an opportunity to experiment with his drawings and concepts.
During his spell at the paper, JERM won the young newspaper’s very first awards with the 2011 regional, and then the national 'Vodacom Journalist of the Year' (Cartoonist category) awards, and this year he was counted amongst the Mail & Guardian’s 200 Young South Africans to watch.
Africartoons asked Jerm about his experience with The New Age and how he sees his future...
Did you have doubts about joining the paper, given the scepticism which greeted the announcement of a pro-ANC newspaper?
JERM: Well, to be fair, they didn't claim to be "pro ANC", but rather "supportive of government" and "pro South Africa". And I saw that as an opportunity to challenge my own thinking in a fresh way, particularly because I am also "pro South Africa" and I want the government to succeed (so that we all succeed). As with every position, I was nervous, but I worked with some great individuals.
What was your first cartoon about? Were you restricted at all by what you could draw in those early days?
JERM: My first cartoon was about the launch of TNA and I positioned the paper in a positive light against a very dark, sensational, and negative media. I wasn't restricted unreasonably, no. But keep in mind that newspapers have specific business models and target audiences, and the editor attempts to keep the content in tune with that. For example, a business newspaper obviously has a stronger pull towards business-related content. A tabloid will be more sensational and shocking. It is fair to expect that cartoonists don't have maximum freedom (despite our desire for such freedom).
You worked under four editors in your two years at The New Age. The first one left before the paper launched in printed form. What was it like working under each of the other three?
JERM: It was actually great. I'm sure that cartoonists are every editor's bane. But I think it's important to remember that satire isn't about facts and balance; that is what journalists and reporters are for.
Cartoons are about commentary and opinion and, as importantly, entertainment. They are not meant to offer solutions, but rather to poke fun at the folly of individuals and situations for the sake of betterment.,
You said in your statement the day after your axing that the paper’s editorial stance became "increasingly out of sync" with your own. When did this start happening, and in what form?
JERM: Probably from the beginning. I became increasingly frustrated at my cartoons being pulled, often without explanation. But then I suppose that’s a consequence of not having maximum freedom!
Do you think that the change was indicative of different editorial styles, or a tightening of the paper’s editorial policy by its media owners?
JERM: Possibly a bit of both. And it's not a bad thing if that is indeed the managerial strategy of the business. However, purpose is not to conform to business strategies, but to be impartial and to draw cartoons which help us laugh at ourselves.
How did you deal with these changes? And did you censor yourself?
JERM: All cartoonists are censored, at some point. The trick is to find a balance between what the editor is comfortable with, and what I'm comfortable with. Yes, I did censor myself more than I'm happy to admit! But I’m proud of every cartoon I did while there.
Then what happened? How did matters escalate to the point where the paper decided to let you go?
JERM: When the editor told me that he doesn't like cartoons that make "political statements or judgements", I realised that I had a challenging road ahead. The reality is that my satire can't function under such conditions.
What do you think about ZAPIRO's cartoon on your sacking?
JERM: I think Zapiro's cartoon is funny. It's supportive of his colleague (me) while poking fun at a situation in his typically brilliant way. I am very grateful that I will forever be included in one of his cartoons.,
You have a large online following of your work outside of the newspaper’s readership that you’ve built up over the years. How did it respond the the news?
JERM: Unbelievably supportive and far too massive for me to attempt to unpack. I didn't realise that so many people read my work (and like it as much as they do).,
What were the highlights of your New Age experience, and what positives will you take away with you?
JERM: Plenty. Far too many positive things to tell you. I learnt a lot about satire, my skills improved a lot (considering that I have no formal training), I worked with some fantastic individuals, and grew a lot in many aspects of my life. That's just to name a few.
What are your plans for the future? Will we see political cartoons by JERM again?
JERM: Yes I will be back. Hopefully sooner than you think! In the meantime, I am going to carry on with non-editorial stuff such as comic strips, caption cartoons, illustrations for magazines, and so on.
Best of luck! We look forward to hearing of any developments.
*AFRICARTOONS has left numerous messages for Moegsien Williams - the editor of The New Age - inviting him to comment, but they have not been answered. We’ll publish his comments when we can get hold of him, as well as the paper’s plans to fill the space left by Jerm, if and when they are announced.
CANNED: The New Age declined to publish this uplifting cartoon by JERM before terminating his contract. A number of the cartoonist's cartoons that were critical of President Jacob Zuma (of whom the newspaper is a loyal supporter) were also not published as they were deemed to be “unaligned with the paper’s vision and mission.” JERM's cartoons have all been removed from the newspaper's website, but can be seen here on africartoons.com.
LINKS TO OTHER REPORTS ON THIS STORY...
BBC WORLD: Marco Werman talks with The World’s Cartoon Editor Carol Hills about the case of JERM (Jeremy Nell), "a South African cartoonist who’s been let go from his job from The New Age, a national newspaper that was founded just two years ago. JERM’s editor at The New Age said his contract was terminated because his cartoons weren’t “aligned” with the goals and mission of newspaper."
CAGLE.COM: Daryl Cagle says (of the Zapiro response cartoon): "it's nice to see professional cartooning camaraderie in such a public venue".
THE MEDIA ONLINE says The New Age's termination of cartoonist Jerm’s contract for not being “aligned” with the Gupta-owned newspaper’s vision and mission was "greeted with howls of outrage".
THE DAILY CARTOONIST: Jerm believes he was fired from The New Age "because his editorial cartoons contained “political judgements or statements.” Others speculate it was because his cartoons often poked fun at the African National Congress and South African President Jacob Zuma – which have close ties to the newspaper.
MARKLIVES.COM: 'Jerm: Neither Left Wing nor Right Wing, but the Middle Finger'... When the cup is half full, its hard being a satirist, as Jeremy Nell, who works under the name Jerm, found out.
DAVID BULLARD on POLITICSWEB: "Last week the talented Jeremy Nell lost his job as cartoonist for The New Age where he has been since the newspaper began. This week's editor of The New Age is a man called Moegsien Williams... (whose) reason for getting rid of Nell was that he thought his cartoons were too political. Presumably somebody upstairs had complained. The good news is that at least The New Age have finally nailed their colours to the mast and come out of the closet as a sychophantic ANC praise singer. A warning to New Age journos....this is not something you will want on your CV in years to come."
CBLDF: notes that "It’s surprising that Jerm would be fired for something that falls within his job duties, but there is speculation that the newspaper’s desire to silence the type of statements he made is at the heart of his dismissal."
WHAT OTHER COMMENTATORS HAVE SAID:
GUS SILBER, Journalist/ Author [via Twitter]: "Jerm, New Age cartoonist, has had his contract terminated because his cartoons are 'too political'."
KIENO KAMMIES, Radio personality [on Twitter]: "I have to say the axing of award winning Jeremy Nell does not bode well for TNA + freedom of expression in general".
PRI's 'THE WORLD' on facebook: "This is a free speech issue, folks".
NONAME anonymous comment on Jerm's blog "It was the decision of the editor Moegsien Williams, formerly of The Star, which has been known for its stunningly bland commentary. You don't need to read more into it. - insider".
WINSTON (on Jerm's blog): "When asked whether he'd filled the empty cartoonist's position, New Age editor Moegsien Williams said he saw the position as being half filled!"
JERM has also received messages of support from many fellow cartoonists.