WCPO’s Cartoon Journalist Kevin Necessary Illustrates the Difficult Stories

Kevin Necessary isn’t the kind of reporter you typically find in a TV newsroom, but WCPO’s resident cartoonist sure knows how to tell a story.

Necessary was already freelancing for the station when he was hired full time in 2016 as part of the station’s digital push, which then included a separate digital newsroom.

“We asked ourselves, ‘How can we be different?’” said News Director Chip Mahaney. Necessary’s assignment was to create unique, exclusive content to put behind the station’s paywall. Today, the paywall is gone, and the newsroom is fully integrated across platforms, but Necessary remains, practicing a unique form he calls “cartoon journalism.”

The comic-style illustrations are obviously quite a change from the photos and videos readers expect when they go to a news site. His drawings add another layer to the story, he says, “where the reader would encounter my drawing and it was something that was different. Something that was unique.”

Necessary can bring people and events to life when video or photographs aren’t an option. He once used John Quincy Adams to narrate portions of a story about the Cincinnati Observatory — try finding file tape of him in your archives. Necessary describes his historical renderings as almost “a dramatic re-enactment.”

Image from Necessary’s longform story about the Cincinnati Observatory. (Photo from WCPO.com)

But Necessary also uses the cartoon format to help tell current stories that can be hard to visualize. He has found a way to report on drug abuse, bullying and immigration in innovative ways through his drawings.

He understands the challenges that traditional journalists face where they are “able to show very artistic photos of the backs of heads or shoulders, but they can’t get that emotional context.” And that’s one thing he feels he can add with his cartoon illustrations.

His most recent longform story, Living in the Shadows, tells one family’s story of immigration and the issues they’ve faced as undocumented immigrants in Cincinnati.

Frame from Kevin Necessary’s three part story Living in the Shadows. (Photo from WCPO.com)

Necessary likes the term “cartoon journalist” because it reminds people that he’s still a journalist first. “I look at these pieces almost like documentaries,” he says. On the longer, deeper stories, he does his own reporting, sometimes spending months talking to his subjects before he begins storyboarding and illustrating.

Most of Necessary’s work lives on WCPO’s digital site, but sometimes there is crossover with the TV side. Living in the Shadows is one example. Not only did Necessary produce his own three-part graphic story, but the station also had a reporter, Breanna Molloy, work on a separate piece for TV to accompany it: a 10-minute story featuring Necessary and his work.

Necessary is not the only cartoon journalist in the country — he’s quick to name Dennis Draughon, who works for WRAL in North Carolina — but he and Mahaney believe he’s the only one producing longform content of this kind in the local TV sphere.

Cartoon journalism may not work for every station, in every market, but Necessary believes there is a lot of potential for cartoons to add an extra dimension. “I like to give the reader a moment to pause,” he says, “to reflect a bit on the story.”

For now, his boss is happy that Necessary has the field pretty much to himself. “I want to be different,” Mahaney says. “I’m always looking for us to be different in some way. If we just do the same thing we’ve always been doing, or if we just do the same thing everyone else is doing, our path to any kind of win in a challenging business like this is going to be more limited.”

If you are using innovative storytelling techniques that we should know about, please email us at cronkitenewslab@asu.edu. We’ll check them out.

Related:

Article: “But it’s…cartoons?”: Comics and cartoons are coming to life well beyond the printed page. Read here.

Website: The Nib Magazine. Visit here.

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