Last week, Sheril got amazing and (to me) unprecedented blogospheric results when she directly took on a troublesome commenter. While I doubt I’ll get the same reaction, this post is in response to the same kind of thing.
Last week I wrote about the Hollywood screenwriters’ strike and, as a fellow writer, voiced my support. I was really disappointed by some of the resulting comments from folks who didn’t seem to understand why unions are important–and most of all, with a comment from “Bi-Liberal.” The comment was not only off point, but meanly so:
Uh, no offense, Chris and girlfriend named Molly, but really? Let’s sound the alarm that the profession you’ve chosen (blogger) isn’t paid that much??? Well, it’s been my impression that this is primarily a hobby for you and most bloggers. Your sole income comes in from other sources, namely the one where your expertise lies.
And considering you don’t have a 9-5er like most of us do, I don’t really feel bad for you. Most self employed, freelancing artists like yourself bite the bullet and accept their lack of time obligations as payment in itself.
You should probably invest in purchasing your own health insurance. I mean, you’re writing books, right? Don’t they pay you for that? Freelance artists generally don’t get “benefits” as they are normally framed. But thats the tradeoff in being your own boss! Perhaps on your next book contract, you should negotiate temporary insurance…
All good advice aside, I’m guessing you’re not paid 7.50/hr and boo hoo-ing about not being able to afford health insurance. Because, last time I checked, those are the people who really need support.
Sound your “I’m priveleged enough to make my own schedule and compensated adequately but still want more” alarm elsewear, please.
For clarity’s sake, let’s just point out that the issues brought up in my original post actually had nothing to do with:
1) A call for anyone’s sympathy for me personally.
2) The fact that there are some very successful self-employed freelancers who enjoy not being tied to a desk 24-7, or having a boss, but still get paid well. Yes, these people do have ample resources and time (or assistants) to figure out how to handle health care, etc. But other freelancers don’t.
3) Those folks who are “being paid 7.50/hr and not being able to afford health insurance.” This touches on plenty of important issues (the minimum wage, a terrible health care system, a lack of access to education and good jobs for disadvantaged people, etc…). However, those issues are also not what the original post was about either. The point is relevant to the initial post in the sense that many freelancers can not afford health insurance. The successful ones can.
So with that stuff out of the way, let’s get on to answering this comment from “Bi-Liberal.”
First of all, Writer’s Guild of America members are not freelancer writers, though they do shuffle from project to project and therefore deal with many of the same issues freelancers do. The Guild has “industry-wide bargaining” because in the 1930s embattled screenwriters in Hollywood organized a union. Now Guild members have a portable health fund that their employers pay into, and protection, unlike some freelance and other writers, from getting taken advantage of by employers on a number of issues. For instance: credits (i.e. getting credited and paid for what they’ve written), set (instead of arbitrary) pay standards, residuals (kind of like royalties), and access to arbitration for disputes with employers. These are amongst the many things a typical union contract protects you from or helps you with. And freelancers would benefit extraordinarily from having industry-wide standards, a health fund, etc., because freelancers are definitely not all equally successful.
So while “Bi-Liberal” tries to make the issue about me, how I spend my day, and how I’m compensated for it, what really matters is what kind of protections exist in general for freelancers or for screenwriters–and screenwriters are in considerably better shape because they have a union.
Meanwhile, on to bloggers, who are entirely dismissed as workers by “Bi-Liberal” because blogging is somehow supposed to be fun or a hobby. Well, guess what: Some people do not want to blog as a hobby; and some media companies are starting to make serious money off the work of bloggers. To me, and especially in light of all the attention bloggers have gotten in the last few years (they’ve been credited with playing crucial roles in elections, for instance), this suggests they should be taken much more seriously and treated as workers just like anyone else in many cases. Furthermore, just like freelancers, just like screenwriters, bloggers would benefit by having some sort of standards set in their industry. For one, those who are “professionals” should be fairly compensated for their quality work for blogs that are monetized–that bring in viewership or revenues.
There’s a far broader and more resonant point here: An increasing amount people these days are choosing careers that do solely depend on what they create for the Internet. It’s not just bloggers. Just look at job listings these days in the areas of media or journalism. In the case of the Writer’s Guild, this is one issue of many at stake in this watershed showdown: the Guild’s writers want to be paid for their work which airs on the Internet. CBS and the like, having to defend declining viewership to their shareholders, cite the ad revenues they’re getting from the Internet and other forms of new media. Meanwhile, they do not want to give a penny of it to the writers that created the original work. That’s not fair. And the stand WGA writers are taking on this will set a precedent in terms of Internet standards for all workers, which is why multiple unions are backing this strike.
Finally, there is a last critical point: screenwriting is one of the last highly organized industries in the US. Companies simply crush other unions through various methods like off-shoring and outsourcing. I’m not going to go into the issues of vastly increasing disparities between the wealthy and the poor. The simple numbers Jonathan Tasini put together illustrate that simple point, but it seems to me that this is the wrong direction for the world to go. Unions can and do create better jobs for all kinds of people. For their sake, and because the WGA writers’ cause is a reasonable and just one, people who care should figure out a way to support the writers in this crucial time. One way to help is through the blogosphere–because the PR war the companies have waged (amidst the media they own) has been tremendous and writers need to feel supported. Striking is a very scary thing. People, especially those who experience the same kind of issues the screenwriters do–aka freelancers, aka bloggers–should show their support.