The “write” side of the Writers Guild of America strike

The medias portrayal of the WGA strike provides biased information due to their connections within large entertainment companies.

Graphic Illustration by Inaaya Yousuf.

The media’s portrayal of the WGA strike provides biased information due to their connections within large entertainment companies.

Sarah Zhang, Staffer

The entertainment industry remains lucrative, consistently overcoming intermittent economic downturns. Paradoxically, Hollywood writers have long been receiving inequitable treatment and pay — a result of industry standards around staffing, employment duration and streaming that consolidate revenue in the hands of studios. On May 2, after failed negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, on concerns such as TV staffing minimums and the use of artificial intelligence, the Writers Guild of America walked off the job. 

While the WGA continues to picket for better conditions, media coverage of the strike has been prejudiced against the writers, omitting information and adopting the perspective of the inconvenienced consumer to stoke anti-union sentiment. Even so, these news reports are beneficial in bringing more attention to the grim realities of TV and film writers.

“Past WGA strikes have precipitated positive changes for writers,” senior Yuvraj Dhadwal said. “It’s awesome that the WGA is striking for the first time in 15 years, and they’re fighting for really important things.”

Hollywood writers earn money through channels such as writing and selling movie scripts, revising existing screenplays or selling ideas for potential productions. They may also receive compensation as residuals on their material that is being re-aired or reused. Despite these streams of revenue, most writers only earn a pittance. For instance, Valentino Garza, producer of critically-acclaimed “Jane the Virgin,” only made three cents off of two episodes of the series, despite high viewership. Furthermore, the WGA has found that the amount of writers working at a minimum wage increased from 33 to 49 percent over the past 10 years. The WGA strike is the culmination of struggling writers to be able to make a stable living, as a result of being subject to the greed of large corporations and studios. Hollywood writing has become a precarious career, with the uncertainty of free-lance work. Considering elevated company profits, studios should come to a compromise with writers, in favor of writers.

“Jobs, especially in the film industry, are not equally well treated,” senior Maia Bline said. “And writers do tend to be on the short end of the stick.”

Hollywood writers are also nervous about the rise of AI; the ongoing strike is the first large-scale union effort to pressure an industry into regulating the use of AI. Most writers are barely earning enough, and they face increased competition from machines that cost less for studios. Though AI tools result in crude writing, studios don’t seem to care about the diminished quality of their productions, as long as they are able to minimize expenses on aspects such as hiring writers.

“It’s efficient and it’s fast, but AI has no creativity,” Bline said. “No matter how advanced AI becomes, it cannot replicate what a human being can do in terms of imagination. Writers don’t want creativity in the film industry to disappear. And that process is being hastened by AI.”

Much of the media coverage comes from the press tied to the show business or technology sectors, the very industries that would support the proliferation of AI and stagnant wages for workers. This is detrimental to film writers, as these media conglomerates, which have only a financial interest in the situation, are more likely to ignore the plight of writers. Without disclosing enough insight on the rationale behind the writers’ strike, the news media is covering  it in bad faith —  intentionally misleading its viewers about the reasonable demands the WGA has. 

In fact, headlines reinforce anti-WGA assumptions, creating anti-union sentiment. The Hollywood Reporter published a story with the headline “Striking Writers Mock ‘Wednesday’ Star Jenna Ortega” about light-hearted jokes writers made about Ortega, owing to her active involvement in her script. In reality, writers were not mocking Ortega, but were being complimentary. Nevertheless, the article and its misleading headline caused a lot of backlash against the WGA, with many readers reacting by deriding the poor conditions of TV writers, calling it a “skill issue.”

“Writers give it their all to make great content that entertains the public,” Bline said. “The cancellation of shows is a small issue in the face of writers gaining a decent standard of living. Castigating striking writers for an inconvenience that is not their fault is unfair and selfish.”

Consumers should be aware that many news providers have vested interests in large studios and corporations. For example, The Hollywood Reporter is owned by Eldridge Industries, which has ties to Netflix. Deadline Hollywood, a brand of Penske Media Corporation, has a long precedent of anti-union sentiment. This is problematic, especially as they are a major source of WGA strike-related news. Their article about the cancellation of Saturday Night Live episodes was posted to Twitter, saying the anchors were “set to host” the episodes, but “the writers strike forced an end” to the 48th season of the “venerable” show. With this framing, Deadline demonizes writers as perpetrators of an offense, when, in fact, the AMPTP is culpable.

News sources are churning out articles framed so that writers are made out to be the cause of the entertainment slowdown, pitting writers against consumers. But even as the AMPTP argues that viewers, unable to watch their favorite shows, are disadvantaged due to the strike, studios retain an immense backlog of content that would help them weather the writer walkout. In Netflix’s first quarter financials meeting, for instance, chief executive Ted Sarandos said that they “have a large base of upcoming shows and films from around the world.”

Journalists should remember to portray unbiased information with the intent of correcting misconceptions, especially as the public is not likely to know the grim realities of film writers. Meanwhile, consumers should save their frustration at not being able to watch new TV shows for the studios, not writers. 

“Have an empathetic worldview,” Dhadwal said. “Your life may be hard without new shows to watch, but writers’ lives may be even worse. So help them out.”