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Cartoonist breaks new ground for online journalism

Cartoonist breaks new ground for online journalism
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First Published: Wed, Apr 14 2010. 09 46 PM IST

Punch line: An example of Fiore’s work seen in an undated cartoon. Reuters
Punch line: An example of Fiore’s work seen in an undated cartoon. Reuters
Updated: Wed, Apr 14 2010. 09 46 PM IST
Mark Fiore, whose animated political cartoons appear on SFGate.com, the website of the San Francisco Chronicle, admitted that he was as surprised as anyone when he became the first editorial cartoonist to win a Pulitzer Prize for work that does not appear in print.
The Pulitzer jury, in announcing the award on Monday, said Fiore’s “biting wit, extensive research and ability to distil complex issues set a high standard for an emerging form of commentary”—online video cartooning.
Punch line: An example of Fiore’s work seen in an undated cartoon. Reuters
Fiore, 40, reached at his home in Marin County, California, said he had been caught off guard by news of the award, which is given by the Columbia University School of Journalism.
“This is my ideas morning and I’ve had my head stuffed in my notebook all morning long,” Fiore said. “I’ve been specifically avoiding all talk about the Pulitzer for the past week to avoiding getting prize fever.”
Fiore was one of the first print editorial cartoonists to make the transition to the online medium when he began doing work for SFGate.com in 2001. Like traditional editorial cartoons, his work pokes fun at politicians and societal hypocrisy, but Fiore delivers his messages in animated videos that last between 45 seconds and 2 minutes.
“No one had ever seen what he was doing,” said Vlae Kershner, news director of SFGate.com. “Nine years later, there’s still no one who does what he does.”
Fiore’s winning entry included Science-gate, which adopts the voice-over tone of a mudslinging political ad to lampoon sceptics of global warming.
Obama Interruptus portrays the US President as a focused orator despite the distracting realities of the world around him. Credit Card Reform in Action spoofs new credit card regulations that are as confusing.
“What I really try to do is make it accessible, avoid the wonky and have something to say,” Fiore said. “I’d rather get people thinking a little bit (first), then laughing. But ideally, do both.”
Fiore grew up in California, where as an eighth-grader he aimed his illustrated commentaries at teachers and school administrators, sometimes landing him in trouble.
“I was the kid that was always drawing,” he said. “I learnt to focus my talents into a more positive direction.”
He majored in political science at Colorado College. In the biography he submitted to the Pulitzer jury, Fiore wrote that his 1991 graduation ceremony was “a perfect send-off for a cartoonist” because he received his diploma “as commencement speaker Dick Cheney smiled approvingly”.
Fiore worked at the San Jose Mercury News for nine months as a staff cartoonist before he started freelancing editorial cartoons to the Chronicle around 2000. SFGate.com was his first online venue. His work is now syndicated and also appears on Slate.com, MotherJones.com and CBSNews.com, among others.
“The Gate has been very supportive and took a chance on me early on,” Fiore said. “They’ve stuck with it, and I’m glad I won this for the Gate.”
Fiore said he would probably spend the $10,000 (around Rs4.5 lakh) that accompanies the Pulitzer Prize on a remodel of the bathroom of the home he and his wife, Chelsea Donovan, purchased in December.
He’ll probably also have a nice dinner with friends, but he knows that deadlines loom: Fiore’s next piece to SFGate.com is due 21 April.
“What do you do when you win a Pulitzer?” Fiore asked. “Do you work hard or do a big blowout and take the week off?”
©2010 / THE NEW YORK TIMES
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First Published: Wed, Apr 14 2010. 09 46 PM IST