Okay, Bloggers: Get Ready to Support Our Fellow Writers!


[Big Media? Or the antidote to it?]

Out here in LA, you can't miss the news that the Writer's Guild of America is on the verge of striking. I'm getting pretty into the drama--reading blogs like Artful Writer (kinda middle ground) and the newly launched United Hollywood (pro-union), for example. Full disclosure: The central reason I'm living every minute of this (or at least, a few minutes out of every hour) is because my girlfriend Molly works for the Writer's Guild. So I understandably have a side in this one.

Not that you can blame me: I'm a writer too, and though I've never tried writing scripts for television or film, I've seen many of the vicissitudes of the journalism world from the inside, and know just how hard it can be for writers to make it in this parallel sphere. I've been relatively lucky, to be sure--but even I've dealt with my share of nonsense from some publications (and no, I am not planning to name names). Suffice it to say that there are just so many things about the structure of writing, and particularly freelance writing, that allow writers to be disadvantaged or just screwed. Start with the lack of health insurance and the unpredictability of paycheck arrivals, and just take it from there.

And so while I haven't mastered all the complexities of the current battle between Hollywood writers and producers--a lot turns upon how much writers are compensated for DVD sales and Internet downloads, see here for a lucid explanation--I certainly know what side I'm on: That of the little guy. After all, I don't think the big media companies are exactly hurting. Union supporter Jonathan Tasini helpfully provides the figures:

Time Warner:
Revenues--$44 billion
Profit--$6.53 billion
CEO Richard Parsons' 2006 pay: $12. 95 million. Five-year pay haul: $45.36 million. Stock options value: $14.2 million (at April 2007 prices)


Revenues--$35 billion

Profit--$4.34 billion

CEO Robert Iger's 2006 pay: $29.93 million plus $8.8 million stock options

News Corp.:

Revenues--$26.74 billion

Profit--$3.34 billion

Boss Rupert Murdoch's 2006 pay: $25.91 million. Five-year pay haul: $86.42 million. Stock: since he owns the company, his stock is worth $8.7 billion


Revenues--$14.32 billion

Profit--$1.66 billion

CEO Leslie Moonves 2006 pay: $24.86 million. Five-year pay haul: $63.43 million. Stock options: $30 million.

So if the screenwriters do indeed go on strike, I am not going to be too worried about these poor companies.

Here's a question, though: Suppose you're not a screenwriter yourself. Suppose you're just a humble blogger or blog reader. If/when the Guild goes on strike, you can't exactly stop work and go hold a sign on the picket lines in order to support them. So what else can we do to show solidarity?

I mean, should we stop watching television and going to new movies, and instead start renting old classics like Citizen Kane? Would that help the writers? And had we better avoid DVDs, since screenwriters complain they're not getting adequate royalties on DVD sales? And what about Internet downloads? Cease and desist? Should we start exclusively YouTubing?

These are questions that I'd definitely like some better answers to. I'm all about solidarity, but it would help if someone told me how to be solid.

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I mean, should we stop watching television and going to new movies

Alas, I can't really do this any more than I already am. There is no worthwhile television left to stop watching :O

And my "boycott" of theatres based on the ridiculously high prices and nonstop commercial-showing of theatres today (well, okay, technically this is not so much a "boycott", as not choosing to purchase a product based on it providing poor utility to me as a consumer) does not really seem to be influencing their behavior any.

The supporting-the-little-guy is not much more than an appeal to emotion, and the information you gave wasn't really that helpful for actually arguing that the writers should be getting more since a) many of these writers are working for smaller studios or organizations b) it isn't a priori clear how the total size of the companies is at all relevant c) it isn't a priori clear that the compensation of the CEOs listed is unreasonable or that the compensation if substantially reduced would cover the increased payment to the writers. I have a slight inkling to support the union in this case, but that's after having at least looked at some relevant facts. The above however seems to be in parts very close to the ooh-look-big-numbers! fallacy.

By Joshua Zelinsky (not verified) on 01 Nov 2007 #permalink

It's difficult for me to imagine what any of these CEOs could possibly do that is worth $24 million or more. If they worked every hour of every day of the week, they still wouldn't be worth that kind of salary. Nobody is. Executive compensation is ludicrous.

Joshua Z. -- Your critique is on-target. Unfortunately, Chris applies this same fallacy in his "analysis" of hurricanes, wildfires, and climate change.

By Neuro-conservative (not verified) on 01 Nov 2007 #permalink

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.

By Bi-Liberal (not verified) on 02 Nov 2007 #permalink

Wow. Some of these comments trouble me--especially the seeming unwillingness to express support for the Writers Guild.

Josh Z: I said I hadn't done a full economic analysis of the issue yet, but I find this one pretty persuasive

Bi: I realize I may be better off than some fellow writers, or some of my fellow human beings for that matter--which is precisely why they need my support. Isn't that what solidarity is all about?

Maybe I'm going to have to write more about this subject. I'm dismayed by some of these reactions.

Its tough, many of the writers I know are nervous, especially those working on new shows that are on the bubble of getting picked up or cancelled. I would steer clear of DVDs and buying web video from iTunes and the like, as well as any "scab" shows, like reality shows, the networks trot out. But I will probably continue to watch dramas and comedys that are in the can.

Hi Chris,

Seen this video over at Fora.tv?

Seems like it would be of interest.

I suggest the Guilds put a cap on their salaries, and then use that money to raise the base pay. Because for every Executive feeding from the gravy train, there's numerous "big name" producers, directors, writers, or actors doing the same thing.