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Iconic Utah editorial cartoonist Cal Grondahl was among as many as a dozen newspaper staffers let go Friday at Ogden's Standard-Examiner.
Grondahl, 63, said Monday that Executive Editor Andy Howell had informed him "they were closing out the position" and the veteran cartoonist walked out of the newsroom thinking he was the only one fired. He said he later learned staff reductions at the daily paper included between six and 12 colleagues, including Grondahl's close friend, graphic arts director Michael Goodwin, and longtime sports editor and columnist Chris Miller.
"It's hard for me because of my friends," said Grondahl, who has worked at Utah's third largest newspaper since 1986. "I'm just glad that it wasn't any worse than it was."
The layoffs, reportedly affecting news-gathering and support positions, follow deep staffing cuts at The Salt Lake Tribune in September and at the Mormon church-owned Deseret News more than three years ago all in the face of declining print circulation and advertising revenue.
"They told me it had nothing to do with the quality of my work," Grondahl said. "I don't know what the numbers are but I hear the rumors. They have to make some hard decisions. I can see that."
The Standard-Examiner, owned by the Ohio-based Sandusky Newspaper chain, had daily print circulation of about 44,076 readers and 52,626 on Sundays, as of late 2012 audit figures. Reached Monday, Howell declined to comment on the extent of the layoffs, referring inquiries to Standard-Examiner Publisher Charles Horton III, who did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
Howell called Grondahl "an institution" and said the newspaper was pursuing several proposals to continue working with him on a contractual basis.
Known for his mordant caricatures of Utah and Mormon culture and Ogden's political scene, Grondahl was a popular fixture on the newspaper's editorial pages.
"He does a unique job on what are sometimes sharp and emotional issues," said Ogden Mayor Mike Caldwell, who acknowledged he had collected every one of Grondahl's cartoons of him. "He's brought a sense of comedy and lightness and reminded us never to take ourselves too seriously."
Grondahl is also an author and is considered the respected elder of a cadre of Utah cartoonists who trained at Brigham Young University, among them Pulitzer Prize winner Steve Benson at The Arizona Republic and The Tribune's own cartoonist, Pat Bagley.
Benson, Bagley and other cartoonists have enjoyed Grondahl's mentoring through their careers, beginning when they were students at BYU and Grondahl cartooned for the Deseret News, Bagley said.
Grondahl, he said, "was the pooh-bah."
"Cal is always thinking, always entertaining and always has something interesting to say," said Bagley, who singled out Grondahl's brush-drawn illustrations and sense of composition in particular as "gorgeous."
"He's just an absolute genius," he said.
Raised in Grand Forks, N.D., before coming to Provo to attend BYU in 1971, Grondahl said "drawing was about all I could do in school. I flunked everything except art."
Grondahl said that while Bagley chooses his cartoon themes from the wide field of political and social debate, he preferred to focus more locally.
"I work in lockstep with the editorials," said Grondahl. "I'm not partisan. I'm not trying to convert or uncovert anyone to anything. I just don't want to die angry."
Grondahl said he was at ease with departing the daily grind of newspaper deadlines. Social media, he said, had transformed cartooning, allowing anyone with an Internet connection to grab an image, put a caption on it and publish it to a wide audience.
"I've had my time. I could hang up my lightsaber right now," said the devoted fan of the "Star Wars" film series.
Yet, Grondahl said he would probably continue to draw, either as a freelancer for the Standard-Examiner or for his own entertainment "and just put them on the Web and on Facebook." He said he was touched by large numbers of followers urging him to continue working.
"I really appreciate the support and love," he said.
Bagley said he was looking forward to "seeing Cal unchained,'' as he put it, "now that he can do whatever he wants."
Tribune reporter Matt Piper contributed to this story.