While a strike by the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) may not seem like an important issue for students with finals looming only a month away, the effects may hit closer to home than we expect.
The WGA strike officially began on Nov. 4, and writers for popular shows like “The Daily Show with John Stewart,” “The Office” and “Lost” are still holding out.
Their writers’ gripe revolves around residual payments from the sale of DVDs and from ad revenue generated by online content. Writers are asking for a bigger piece of the pie than the networks and studios seem willing to give.
It’s not that the writers are not getting paid for DVDs and online content they have a hand in. It’s that the writers are getting paid more for reruns than DVDs and online content, an imbalance they would like to see evened out.
The last major WGA strike took place in 1988 and lasted for 22 weeks, from March 7 through Aug. 7. Television schedules were filled with reruns. Once the shows returned, network television viewership was a full 9 percent lower than it had been before the strike.
This time around, shows like “The Colbert Report” are already stuck playing reruns because the show is scripted on a day-by-day basis.
However, for shows like “Lost,” it may take a bit longer before we see the effect of the strike. Though scripted in advance, changes have already been made to the plot due to the strike.
While it might be annoying from a spectator’s perspective to miss out on new episodes of favorite shows, as writers, we at The Signal have to sympathize with the pickets. We are writers ourselves and many of us have experience working full time for newspapers or magazines.
Though it is not quite the same thing writing for print as it is writing for television, the problems we confront are sometimes the same. Newspaper and magazine writers, like television writers, have started to deal with the issue of online content as well.
Often, the work of freelance writers (who are very commonly college students trying to earn a couple extra bucks) is published online, entirely legally, without the freelancer receiving any additional payment. It’s become a standard part of most freelance contracts, though some freelancers will try to negotiate it when discussing a contract nowadays.
The Internet is a great way to reach a larger, younger audience, and getting the word out to more people is a goal all writers have. But there is no reason these writers should not be fairly compensated for their effort.
From this perspective, it is hard for us not to sympathize with the writers on strike.
We love Jon Stewart as much as any other college student, but we understand why a writer would demand residuals from Internet profits before the option to claim that money is permanently written out of contracts.
Due to this, we have to support them as well. Not seeing “The Office” definitely sucks, but it costs us much less to miss a few episodes of the shows we like than it would for the writers to be complacent and continue to let themselves get a raw deal.
For the time being, we’ll just have to content ourselves with video games, music and studying for finals.