Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Broadcast article

Thanks to DD in the comments for the heads up on Emily Bell's fantastically wrongheaded article in Broadcast (go read it first, but brace yourself). If it wasn't spreading such harmful misinformation, it'd almost be funny. I’ve sent an email complaining about it - yes, I have become that man, the one who writes to newspapers to complain about articles, the line has been crossed. Anyway, I've reproduced the email below just in case anyone else shares the same incorrect view of things:


Dear Ms Bell

Your article in Broadcast on the 7th November, "Striking writers are wrong to think they should be paid more", is perpetuating several common misconceptions. Even the title itself displays a spectacular misunderstanding of how things work.

"Try telling that to the Writers' Guild of America, which went on strike for the first time in two decades, as it insists that screenwriters should be paid more money to cover reformatting rights across digital platforms other than broadcast TV. What a truly bizarre prospect this is - and perhaps only on the west coast of America where the relativity of wealth is so insanely out of kilter could it garner any kind of purchase as a basis for a strike."

First of all, it is not MORE money. Writers earn royalties - or, as they call them in the States, residuals - on a piece of work they authored. If a network makes money from the resulting TV show, then the writer is entitled to a share of that money. It's not extra. It's not a bonus, it's not a perk.

Say Doris Writer creates a TV show. The network puts that show on air, with adverts (or on a pay per view channel), thereby earning money. Doris gets a share of that money, as is right and proper, yes? Yes. All fair enough so far. The network then puts the show out on DVD, and Doris gets a share of the DVD earnings - much like an author gets a percentage of every book sold. Again, as is right and proper, yes? Yes. Fair enough again. Now stay with me, Emily, cause here's where it gets really complicated. If the network then puts that show on the internet, with adverts, it is earning money from that internet showing - the same way it earns money from a TV airing, or from a DVD box set. Doris then, surely, deserves to get a percentage of that too, because the network is earning money from an airing of her show. How, in the name of David Hasselhoff, is that NOT fair to you?

Many writers get most of their earnings from repeat showings - but what if that TV show only ever repeats on the net, or as an iTunes download? Under your rules, Doris wouldn't be entitled to any residuals at all. Still fair?

The writers aren't asking for "more money to cover reformatting rights". They want their hard earned residuals, in whatever medium that may be. It's not such a "bizarre prospect", and it's not only "on the west coast of America". Five minutes of research would have revealed the WGGB/PACT TV agreement, which entitles us UK writers to 5.6% minimum royalties on the "multi-media" exploitation of a standard TV episode we wrote. 5.6%. DVD, downloads, on-demand, yada yada yada. Know how much US writers get on DVDs? 0.3%. They were asking for 0.6%. They even abandoned this shockingly greedy request, in the hope of getting *something* for internet distribution. The studios refused to give them anything. Yeah, the WRITERS are the greedy ones...

"The basis of the claim for greater pay is surely a fairly obvious fallacy - that television is going to offset its declining audiences and therefore production budgets with internet exposure and that scripts acquire an additional value when extended across all platforms for which writers should be paid."

Again, it is not "additional" value. If the network makes money from a repeat - whether that repeat is on TV or the internet - then the writer is entitled to their percentage. It’s a royalty. Like it or not, people are watching less on their actual TV boxes, and either waiting for the DVD or watching online. If TV moves online altogether - sure, maybe it won't move in completely, but it's already leaving some clothes and a toothbrush behind, you know, just in case - then the US writers are going to need a solid residuals deal in place, or they'll suddenly find themselves with drastically reduced earnings.

"It is a formula which many of us might wish we had adopted - if I'm paid for a piece in print then how about a bit more for it popping up on an interweb site?"

Hey, my line of work isn't the same thing at all, but why don't I get exactly the same deal?? Doesn't work that way. You get paid for an article. They print it. That's the end of the story. It appears for one day, and never comes back. They can't "repeat" the newspaper, several weeks later, and get people to buy the same old articles all over again, earning themselves more money. They couldn't sell advertising in that repeat paper. So it's not the same thing. The website is an extension of that same paper. But if they were to collect all your articles and make a TV show about them that went on to sell millions of copies on DVD or online - you'd be entitled to royalties from that. And if they tried to do it without giving you any money, you'd be pretty angry.

"For the first time in five or six years the pendulum is even swinging back against the idea that the advertising-funded model of web content will work. At the nerdiest edge of the internet there is now an argument that advertisers will no longer have to stick their brands to content as there are so many better ways to reach the consumer. "

And here's where you lose me completely. You're saying online delivery of ad-funded content isn't going to work, is too expensive, and will eventually be abandoned by the advertisers altogether? So why are writers greedy for wanting their fair share of residuals for money that *is* earned on those online shows? If it's all going to fall apart anyway, what the hell, give them 20%, won't make a difference, eh?

It is extremely irresponsible to publish such a poorly researched, ill-informed article. In an ideal world, there'd be a retraction, and an apology to the striking writers who are trying to safeguard their livelihoods. Then again, in an ideal world, articles in a publication featuring “television and radio industry news” would demonstrate some basic understanding of, say, the television industry.

This isn't about the millionaires, this is about the people who haven't sold anything for a few years, the ones who live off residuals. Some of them have families. All of them would like to continue to be able to eat and pay their rent. If you genuinely think that's wrong, then that's the "truly bizarre prospect".

Yours sincerely,

James Moran
(Non-greedy writer)


Tom said...

Ha! I'd just finished composing an email myself when seeing you had done the same. Bloody awful article.

James Moran said...

Feel free to email, the more people that complain, the better. By the way, her email address bounces back with "no such user", as does the "editor" address, so you'll have to send it directly to the editor herself - email link on this page.

Sarah of the Dead said...

Actually, I'm fairly sure that if you write a piece for a newspaper, and it then gets reprinted on the web, or it gets included in a book, you ARE entitled to extra money. It depends on the specific rights in your contract.

Peter Pan said...

And what is that bollocks about online advertising? I work in radio advertising (writing the damn things .. I'm sorry, I am so sorry!) and if anything web advertising is on the up. She clearly knows jack about her entire subject.

Tom said...

I got that bounce back too. Will try again shortly.

Incidentally - royalties and residuals are slightly different in principle. I think John August has just written a very illuminating post about them.

Tom said...

"She clearly knows jack about her entire subject"

Why should she know? She's only director of digital content for Guardian News and media. Knowing stuff probably doesn't fall into the job spec.

James Moran said...

Okay, if anyone still wants to complain, you'll have to send it to someone else, as the editor's away until the 20th November (I just got an out-of-office reply, so I forwarded it to the deputy ed). I've never had this much trouble trying to send an email to someone. I'm sure I don't need to say this, but just in case, if you do email, please don't be nasty or abusive - let's show that we're professional about this.

Sarah: Cheers for that - looks like she should have read her own contract...

Lucy said...

My friend, you are a God amongst men. I had attempted to send an email myself but got bogged down in abuse - women like her let the side down. We have job enough getting taken seriously in this industry without the Emily Bells of this world who yes, should have read her own contract. This is precisely why I gave up on journalism, it's full of misinformed, maligning, ill-informed, opinionated &%$* $%!*@"! (I'm sure there are nice journalists out there, inc you Jase, but all the ones I ever worked with... Well, let's not get into that again.)

Rob Stickler said...

Awesome letter.

I'm shocked that my newspaper of choice, with it's arts friendly reputation, would publish something so poorly researched.

I might have expected the Gurdian to support the writers not damn them.


Lucy said...

I'm not surprised at The Guardian. I would say why but wouldn't want to get done for libel.

Here you go:


I found this in about three clicks. Oh...Online content... Oh, they get "extras"! Fancy that!!!!

Robin Kelly said...

I had sent an email to Bell but it bounced back from two addresses. I asked the web admin what's going on, and was still waiting for the reply when I saw your post.

They might have temporarily closed Bell's account due to protests. I never thought of sending it to the editor. I shall do that now.

Tom said...

On a related note, thought this old (May 2007)article might be of interest to all writers:

Piers said...

I couldn't find an email link. Thank you.

Anonymous said...


Good for you, mate. I emailed the WGGB first thing to bring their attention to the piece and in the hope they would write a letter to Broadcast clarifying some of the points made. I agree with you about staying polite.

Don't worry about becoming one of those people who write letters to the paper, comes to us all with age.

Take it easy.


Sarah of the Dead said...

Lucy: I'm a nice journalist. Honest.

(Even if I am logged into the wrong Blogger account.)

Lucy said...

Sarah: Glad to hear it my friend... Tho I will find out if I ever worked with you and plot your downfall if I find out I did. Though depressingly you are younger than me so I doubt it, so I *think* you're safe...

Oyvind said...

You rock!

Lina said...

What a disgusting and ignorant letter. This fumes me. It sounds like she wrote a generic complaint about industry strikes, as though she figured 'I'm sure I must be right.' Writers have it hard enough as it is without others trying to step on them. My friend was telling me about some of the support they were giving at the big rally last weekend. I wish school and personal matters weren't such a crush or I would have made it out there myself. Here's to hoping for next week. Everyone who works on a project is important but without doubt there would be NOTHING without the writers. I want to be a director and I have no trouble saying I think writers are the most pivotal part of the creative process.

There will be a rukus, sir. Let's rock.

james henry said...


Dom Carver said...

Nice one.

Please post any reply you get, I'll be interested to read it.

DublinDave said...

I think what we all need to bear in mind about the current action by the WGA is it speaks to issues that will affect all of us sooner rather than later. Shawn Ryan has walked away from The Shield, The Unit and one other show and is potentially facing a multi-million dollar lawsuit. He wouldn't do that if the issues here weren't extremely serious. And it's as close as we got to a selfless act in this business. See Joss Whedon's comments for the truth of that.

If the WGA lose we are all in big trouble. Currently the WGGB has a great deal but don't think for one minute that we won't face similar rollbacks down the line. No one wants to be melodramatic but showrunners in particular are risking a hell of a lot for those who come after. We have to ensure on our side of the Atlantic that the message gets out and falsehoods are challenged. Good on James. It's not about attacking Emily, but about challenging that particular take on the issues.

For those who've climbed the mountain and those in the foothills, those writers who came before deserve no less.


Lina said...

After much anger and flailing I spit this out. If you have any problem with my mentioning and linking to you let me know and I'll pull it immediately.


The more time ticks by, the angrier I get and the more I want to do about and for this.


Boz said...

But... but... she writes for a 'digital distribution platform'. Is she having a seriously tropical moment??

annabel said...

That was an excellent letter!


"It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt." - Mark Twain

Emily Bell, I suggest that you either educate yourself or just sit quietly and keep your uninformed opinions to yourself.