WHO HAS HEARD of the rural-Iowa newspaper Farm News? A week ago, the answer was nearly no one. But nothing blasts a paper’s name into the public consciousness like an ethical meltdown, and that’s exactly why thousands of people worldwide now know—and are criticizing—the small weekly. All it took was a pointed cartoon, a bitter advertiser, and a questionable editorial decision.
Last week, Farm News published a drawing by freelancer Rick Friday, whose “It’s Friday!” cartoon has appeared in the paper for 21 years. In the sketch, a farmer leaning on a fencepost says he wishes there were more money in farming. “There is,” his pal responds. “In year 2015 the CEOs of Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer and John Deere combined made more money than 2129 Iowa farmers.”
The next day, Friday received an email from an editor, who said the sketch had caused a “shitstorm here that I do not understand. In the eyes of some, Big Ag cannot be criticized or poked fun at.” Farm News serves 24,000 readers in 33 counties. A client affiliated with one of the companies mentioned in Friday’s cartoon had pulled its advertising from the paper. Farm News cut ties with Friday just as quickly.
Cartoonists have a long history of retribution from their powerful targets. Most of the backlash has come from governments and political leaders, extremist groups, and even grassroots protesters. Until now, pressure from advertisers and self-censoring editors has mostly spiked individual cartoons, not led to cartoonists being canned. Neither outcome benefits readers, but the case of Friday and Farm News seems a predictable step forward for those who aim to curtail freedom of the press.
Read the rest of this article at the Columbia Journalism Review: