Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Bell drops a clanger

Hmm, the usually-quite-good Emily Bell appears to have gone slightly awry with this article on 'Why Striking Writers Are Wrong To Think They Should Get Paid More.' M'colleague James Moran explains why in detail here.

However, one of the regular problems with the coverage of this strike seems to be some journalists thinking 'well I don't get paid again for an article when it appears online, why should they?', or as Bell puts it:

"...if I'm paid for a piece in print then how about a bit more for it popping up on an interweb site?"

Well yes. Maybe journalists should get paid again for their work reappearing on the 'interweb'. But just because journalists don't, that doesn't mean that creative writers shouldn't.

But more worrying is this statement:

"...the Writers' Guild of America... insists that screenwriters should be paid more money to cover reformatting rights across digital platforms other than broadcast TV."

Er, no they don't. It's nothing to do with 'reformatting', it's about networks trying to wriggle out of agreements to pay writers residuals (royalties) by claiming that online originals or repeats aren't eligible because they're 'promotional', then charging advertisers considerable sums to hawk their wares on the front of these 'promotional' episodes.

Arguably, the strike isn't even about 'more money', it's about writers simply trying not to let the networks get away with not paying what they already owe, using the excuse that 'it's too early to say how well the internet is going to pan out' whilst simultaneously pushing the internet as a billion-dollar revenue stream to investors (see video in previous post). If, for argument's sake, twenty per cent of the ratings of any one show are going to migrate to the internet, then writers need to fight to make sure that proportion of their residuals aren't going to be taken away from networks on the basis of a lie. And that lie, again, just to make it clear, is the network's claims that internet-available episodes of televison don't have to pay residuals due to their counting as 'promotional', and then turning round and selling advertising space on these already-'promotional' episodes to advertisers.

To quote from Josh Friedman's blog:

AMPTP: Wow, Ms. Prostitute. That was some great sex we just had.
PROSTITUTE: Thanks, AMPTP John. That'll be three hundred dollars.
AMPTP: You're kidding. I'm not paying you.
AMPTP: I paid you three hundred dollars for sex last week. I consider this promotional.

... which I think explains the situation rather well.

Journalists aren't obliged to agree with the writers' arguments on the basis of some quill-based solidarity. But it would be nice if they checked the facts a bit more thoroughly.


Oli said...

Most of the press coverage of the strike that I've seen has been disappointingly skewed, but the title of that one might as well have been PPPPPssttthhhbbbbrrr.

Or whatever the onomatopoeic spelling of a raspberry would be.

thegirl said...

Disappointing that Emily wrote this piece, but not surprising that Broadcast run articles attacking writers who fight for residuals; especially given they're owned by EMAP who in 1995 famously offered freelancers the opportunity to dispose of all their rights, for all time, throughout the universe, "for all media including those yet to be invented".

Nice, huh? Not much seems to have changed...

james henry said...

Ah yes, I've signed a few of those myself. Some of those contracts have more and better thought-out SF elements than the average episode of Doctor Who...

Piers said...


Freelance journalists do have the right to be paid for other use of their work (like on the internet f'r'example), unless they've specifically signed those rights away (either in a contract for that piece of work, or by accepting full-time employment).


Anonymous said...

It's not immediately obvious as you have covered the hole with the phrase "checked the facts a bit more thoroughly"... but you appear to be missing the words "knew what the fuck they were talking about".