Writers Guild Swears Off New Media

As the toxic tension surrounding contracts in Los Angeles drifts closer to an expiry date at the end of this month, the Writers Guild of America made it clear it is claiming “new media,” extending its ban from film and television to include work in new media and animation features. Animation Guild aside, the online talent should be careful with the Guilds, following SAG’s inclusion of the online series quarterlife in its contracts.

The WGA is also taking a hard line on work for new media — including Internet and cell phones — with members prohibited from rendering writing services for any company due to the WGA’s position that it has jurisdiction in new media. (Variety)

WGA president Partic Verrone spoke clearly last year at a rally in support of a dozen non-WGA writers from America’s Next Top Model. Verrone told several hundred writers “Every piece of media with a moving image on a screen or a recorded voice must have a writer. And every writer must have a WGA contract.” The language is inescapable. I’m surprised he specified “screens,” honestly.

The rally was part of the WGA’s wooing of the largely non-guild reality television writers, whose “non-strike” in 2001 is attributed for the rise of reality television. Writer and filmmaker William Richert commented on Variety’s site “In 2001 they threw 1,000 TV writers into oblivion with their stoppage, who were replaced by the “reality” writers (writers?) they are now so militantly trying to organize.”

Meanwhile, in the “new media” realm, there had been hope that the WGA’s action might prove to be a boon for the medium. Craig DiFolco, creator of the interactive iChannel, wrote on the show’s blog: “The last time there was a writers’ strike in Hollywood, it sparked the renaissance of reality television. This time around, internet-based entertainment just might be poised to make the same leap.” While such a leap would be fantastic, it does not seem that a lack of talented writers is the greatest limiting factor in internet-based entertainment. While there is a disproportionate amount of terribly written online video, funding is definitely the weakest link in the financial unproven waters of “new media.”

Some writers are delighted that the WGA is taking a hard line on such a broad swath of media. Writer Ashley Miller comments,

Strength is the only way writers are going to get anything reasonable from the Companies in this negotiations process. Historically, writers have never gotten anything (pension & health, residuals) without strength — either a strike or the threat of a strike. If new media isn’t covered by the next agreement, we all may as well get used to being paid minimum wage and working 100 hour weeks for no overtime….

Blogger and champion of first amendment rights Josh Wolf spoke to NewTeeVee on Thursday about organization of labor in the online sphere. Comparing the blogosphere to the traditional writers’ guild, Wolf said “our disenfranchisement is their disenfranchisement.”

Before running off to perform his civic duty as a candidate for San Francisco Mayor at the debates, Wolf speculated about the future of organized online labor. “The Media Bloggers Association could develop into a larger organization. Currently members have little understanding of guilds and they have distanced themselves from organized labor…. In the longer term people need to realize that they are contributing to these companies’ bottom line,” Wolf added. “There should be a boycott on contributing free content.”

Strike authorization and contract expirations are fast approaching. Will the online world be starved from a fertile ground of talented writers who might try to explore the maturing “new media” amid a strike? We’ll see as talent moves through online media into the guilds.

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