Page last updated at 13:10 GMT, Tuesday, 7 April 2009 14:10 UK

Life without political cartoons

By Alicia Trujillo
BBC World Service

oon of a man looking for his newspaper
Ed Stein's last cartoon marking the end of the Rocky Mountain News

For 31 years Ed Stein worked as a daily political cartoonist but his job came to an end in February when the newspaper he worked for, the Rocky Mountain News, closed down.

Denver's Rocky Mountain News printed its final edition on 27 February. The paper had lost $16m (£10m) last year, as advertising revenue fell.

Rocky Mountain News closed February 2009
Seattle Post-Intelligencer printed last paper edition March 2009
San Francisco Chronicle lost more than $50m in 2008
New York Times is servicing $400m debts

The newspaper industry in the United States has been badly hit by the economic downturn and several titles have closed or are facing closure.

The US Audit Bureau of Circulation says daily newspaper sales were down 4.6% year on year in September 2008, compared with a 2.6% fall in the previous 12 months.

Scrutinising policies

Over the years Ed Stein produced more than 8,000 drawings, many of which have been syndicated to newspapers and magazines including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and Newsweek.

In the 1970s, there were more than 300 daily political cartoonists, now there are fewer than 50, says Mr Stein. And it is an issue that worries him.

"If you are doing your job you are taking local politicians to task, you are doing it in a way nobody else in the paper is doing," he told the BBC World Service.

"In some ways you're ridiculing them, in some ways you are also doing what you are supposed to do, to scrutinise their policies."

A selection of Ed Stein's cartoons

For Mr Stein being a political cartoonist is the best job in a newspaper:

"I don't know that there is really anything else as satisfying," he says.

"If we are not there, it is just one more thing that weakens democracy."

For 11 years Mr Stein also drew a comic strip, Denver Square, for the Rocky Mountain News.

One of the cartoons he drew was after the Columbine High School shootings in April 1999, in which 15 people, including the two attackers, died.

"After the Columbine shootings I did a series of cartoons in my comic strip. I think they really helped people focus their feelings and thoughts. It was cathartic for me as well," Mr Stein says.

Ed Stein's last cartoon for the Rocky Mountain News was one he had been thinking of for months, as he says they knew for a long time that the newspaper was not going to survive.

But the actual idea only came to him on the last day, he says, when he realised that there were going to be a lot of people who would miss it the next day.

"So I just drew a man standing there in his robe with a cup of coffee in his hand, looking down his long sidewalk, which is totally empty, going where is my paper?"

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