The Star Tribune is moving on without an editorial cartoonist, following an announcement Monday that Mike Thompson would be moved from a full-time role to a freelance position.
In a note to readers posted in the opinion section of the Star Tribune's website early Monday evening, the news outlet characterized the move as a business decision.
"As the Star Tribune continues to assess the best ways to develop our news organization, we've decided to move forward without a full-time editorial cartoonist on staff," the message read.
Aside from praising Thompson's work, the company declined further comment.
This will be the first time the Star Tribune will be without a full-time editorial cartoonist in decades. Before Thompson, Steve Sack spent over 40 years as the newspaper's cartoonist.
Asked for a reaction to the change, Thompson said he's "excited to try something new."
In a phone interview, Sack said he was saddened and upset about the move, calling it a "terrible decision," and describing Thompson as a "very good cartoonist."
"It's not moving forward, it's moving backwards," Sack said, adding it's a "real loss to the readers." He said he was excited when the paper informed him it would re-hire his position after his retirement in 2022.
Sack, a member of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, said the number of jobs in the field have plummeted over the years. He said there are now fewer than 24 full-time editorial cartoonists in the United States. There had once been more than 100.
Thompson is best known to readers in Michigan, where he had an award-winning 21-year run at the Detroit Free Press before joining USA Today in 2019.
He declined to comment when asked for additional thoughts on the change and the paper's reasons behind it. It's still being worked out how often his work will publish, he noted.
CEO and publisher Steve Grove issued an apology after strong backlash over Thompson's debut cartoon that four DFL Muslim legislators and many others described as racist and Islamophobic.
The cartoon showed a man saying, "Broadcasting the Muslim call to prayer at all hours will make Minneapolis too noisy," surrounded by four masked assailants firing guns outside his house.
It was in regard to the Minneapolis City Council's decision to allow broadcast of the Muslim call to prayer at any hour. Grove wrote that the cartoon was in support of the council's decision, but said it made many "feel disrespected by its depictions."
The legislators said in the statement that "globally, many Muslims report not being respected by those in the West, and this cartoon adds to that sentiment right here in Minnesota."
Among other reasons for reducing editorial cartooning positions, Sack said he thinks there are cases where papers become "afraid of reader reaction." He said he thinks it's important to have a variety of opinions and strong reactions.
"It's the nature of having an opinion; some people are not going to like it," Sack said.
He also thinks it's better for newspapers to preserve a full-time cartoonist.
"They develop a relationship with the readers, it's more of a dialogue," he said. "There's a loyalty that comes with it. Whether it's positive or negative, people will look for the cartoons every day."