Albert Kim has a nice blog post at HuffPo about how newspaper and magazine writers don't even get the benefit of residuals or the chance to strike like our Hollywood colleagues. One of his reasons are that journalists are notoriously hard to organize. I can't believe that when they make so little in comparison to what TV writers make, and when they're so undervalued. It's not that we're hard to unionize. It's that we don't have a powerful union to join. As Kim states, we currently have to sign over all of our rights to stories now, and many versions of our stories run in different publications owned by the parent companies. And yes, you can try to opt out of such an agreement, but it would never work unless you were Christopher Hitchens. And this is the portion of the story that Kim doesn't get. The reason is that magazines and newspapers don't value the work of their writers enough to care. Writers are a dime a dozen, even at the upper echelon. Especially freelancers. Especially now that magazines care more and more about visuals and chopped up tiny nuggets of text (thanks, Maxim). Anyway, supply outweighs demand, and since our articles don't make the magazines as much money as TV shows make a network (not even close), they don't have to pay us much to begin with--plus, the magazines seem to believe (funnily) that they can rewrite better anything we submit. So we're just sort of there out of respect--that's our gift from the media universe: we're preserved like endangered species, looked upon almost as artists who should be lucky we have Medici-like benefactors. Should we get residuals, especially if our articles are reprinted? Absolutely. But how about acknowledging the fact that we don't have one strong union representing our group who could make that happen. The National Writers Union, of which I am a member, does not seem organized or powerful enough to sway freelance journalists over to the member desks--perhaps because they let anyone who's written anything join. And the WGA doesn't let us in. Which is nonsense, considering we provide much of the content that leads to their content (remember "In Cold Blood" or how about "The Fast and the Furious"). Plus, so much of our content is devoted to promoting or "covering" their content for a national audience. We make Guild writers the big money they still aren't happy with. Plus, we write lots of literary non-fiction that's a lot more artistic than Guild-written dramedies. And don't tell me screenwriters don't read something in the newspaper and turn it into a script without paying the author of the article. I've been told on more than one occasion not to write certain stories that intrigue me in national outlets for fear of idea-poaching by a Hollywood scribe or producer. Nevermind the idea-poaching that has happened to me at our finest magazines. Sure, we need to rise up and change the business model, and refuse all magazines content until they stop as Jonathan Tasini has said this "plantation" business model wherein we just beg for the right to be screwed by the big media companies. Wherein if we don't beg to be screwed (I mean, assigned!), we don't eat. But that won't happen without the WGA letting us in. Instead we stand in Hollywood cafes as cheeky Guild writers--who we support!--kid around about their latest YouTube videos and the fact that soon enough this will all be over and they'll start collecting their already etched-in-stone residual checks--if only for reruns and such. What the Guild needs to do is to recognize that there's worth in unionizing the people who create printed and digital text media beyond just buying the rights to hit novels they want to adapt. If they included freelance writers, their dues profits would rise, and we would have access to some great health insurance and solidarity. At the same time, we'd have some protection against the big media companies for whom we have to lay down every time we're offered a story. Perhaps magazines wouldn't steal our pitches anymore. Perhaps we'd be able to establish some fair working rules--such as getting paid for extensive rewrites. But the Guild, as far as I can tell from my stance in LA, is simply not that kind of union. It cares more about supporting its $1 million and even $200,000 a year TV writers than its $50,000 a year TV writer (who thanks his lucky stars he hasn't yet been kicked out due to a lack of work). So why should it want to open its doors to the latter's group of bastard cousins--freelance print and online media writers who kill themselves to crack six figures? Being able to write a long series of complex, textual paragraphs that tell a story linearly--a talent that eludes too many screenwriters without the help of their directors--is far too esoteric a gift to entice Guild higher-ups to want us. Instead, we'll just keep working for hire and providing you with the ideas you need to create the next lame sitcom or digital download. You know, the one for which you'll probably start collectings residuals in two months when you look back on the strike as a hoot and go back to your $200,000 job while your boss still feels discontented with his eight figures. After all, how *is* he going to buy a yacht to compete with Paul Allen? [via HuffPo]
p.s. The Shallot supports the writers. Especially the WGA writers who haven't been on a series in a while. But this point needs to be made, alas.
p.p.s. This isn't an anti-editor post. Most editors I know just follow the rules and end up quitting their jobs eventually to freelance. So get on the train even if you're afraid of upsetting the balance. The climate of fear should stop. We're needed.