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Robert J. Elisberg

Robert J. Elisberg

Posted: November 27, 2007 11:02 AM

The Writers Guild Strike Primer: Part 6, Journalism 101


Read more strike coverage on the Huffington Post's writers' strike page.

On Monday, representatives from the Writers Guild and AMPTP companies met for the first time since the strike was called. While reaching a settlement would be quaint and wonderful, a huge gulf still exists between the sides.

Both participants have agreed to a news blackout. (Keep in mind, however, that asking people in Hollywood to keep a secret is like asking a sieve to hold water. Hollywood leaks secrets almost worse than Dick Cheney, Scooter Libby and Robert Novak.) With news limited, therefore, an ever greater need exists to understand the various information sources.


Los Angeles Times

Traditionally, the paper has not done a bang-up job on Industry labor strife. During the last strike in 1988, for instance, articles by reporter Michael Cieply tended to emphasize WGA dissidents and WGA "disaster." This year, however, there's actually been some very good reporting. Richard Verrier has been factual and extremely objective to both sides. And Patrick Goldstein has had several tremendous, insightful analyses in his "Big Picture" column. [Disclaimer: Okay, okay, young Mr. Goldstein and I were cabinmates at Camp Nebagamon when I was 11. And we attended Northwestern University together. But I criticize him to his profound annoyance, which happily is rare.] The biggest complaint about the L.A. Times coverage has been finding it. Ridiculously, the paper has generally buried articles in the frozen tundra of the Business section. Considering that the strike costs L.A. $21 million every day, its not being on the front page is, what clinical psychologists call, "not wanting to offend advertisers."


New York Times

The otherwise-excellent, eloquent "paper of record" has strangely been snide in its coverage. For example they actually sniped at picketing writers for wearing scarves and designer glasses. (Hint: it was cold, and the writers wanted to see.) The paper reached its pinnacle with an article last Tuesday, perhaps one of the most ridiculously-bizarre stories I've ever read on any Writers Guild negotiation - repeatedly comparing the strike to actual warfare, repeatedly giving advice to the WGA (and horrible advice at that), and repeatedly positioning the Writers Guild as the sole party with any chance of getting hurt in any way. Oh, the reporter's name is...Michael Cieply. Honest. Okay, I know what you're thinking, but it's even worse - between when he wrote for the L.A. Times and New York Times, he tried his hand at being a producer for Sony Studios.


Daily Variety

The Hollywood trade papers are not known for, er..."objectivity" when it comes to labor versus companies. Not to suggest that ad revenue is involved, but draw your own connection between Point A and Point B. No detours allowed. To be fair to staff, there are reports that one particular editor completely rewrites articles before publication. This may or may not be the case. But the coverage is poor enough not to matter much. Remarkably, though, Daily Variety reporters have an online blog which has been excellent. Well-worth checking out, and far better than their regular coverage.


Hollywood Reporter

This is the only trade paper that makes Daily Variety look objective. Just one example: at the huge multi-union rally on Tuesday, every other publication estimated the crowd at 4,000-4,500 people. The L.A. police estimated it at 4,000 people. The Hollywood Reporter had it 1,500.


Deadline Hollywood Daily

Written by Nikki Finke, this regularly-updated blog, an independent off-shoot of the L.A. Weekly, is an odd fish. Wildly popular among writers, on the one hand most of the reporting has been highly impressive with remarkably-detailed information - but what's underwhelming are the things occasionally gotten wrong which have had to be backtracked, amid vociferous editorializing. The sensibility is of one-sided scoops from people feeding material that gets printed as is. Often, it's spot on and absolutely terrific. But you expect objectivity and a slightly better batting average from journalists, because readers shouldn't have to wonder about accuracy, no matter how often it turns out to be right. Still, worth checking in on, periodically, but read with a cautious eye.


Mark Evanier

There's only one reason to ever look forward to a Writers Guild labor negotiation, and that's because you get a chance to read the analysis from Mark Evanier. Evanier is a longtime WGA member, and legend in the field of animation and comics. But his perspective on labor relations is so low-key, so objective, so insightful that no one comes close. He's a personal friend, but New Republic just hired him to write his take on the current strike and place it in a historical view, so they clearly agree. The piece is pure Evanier, wonderful. There's one further advantage to reading his "news from me" blog: you get his analysis of most everything in entertainment (and some politics), so you win all around.


Ken Levine

The renowned TV writer and sometime-baseball announcer has one of the more enjoyable entertainment blogs. Little news per se, but his pronounced wit and sharp eye cut right to the center of issues, most notably the strike. Sure, you can read his strike pieces on Huffington Post, but then you'd miss what he writes about everything else.


Huffington Post

For something as controversial as a strike, what you have here are vibrant viewpoints mixed together, from Chris Kelly's brilliance to Ari Emanuel's odd flights of fancy, and all points between, combined with objective, albeit second-hand news reports. Sure, the opinions are weighted towards writers, but that's a good thing. [Disclaimer: oh, you know.] To round things out, you can even read comments from people who don't have a clue, but do like to insist how rich and greedy writers are, ignoring a) reality, and b) that corporations are richer and greedier than sin. And of course, for pure fun, you also get the impressively-consistent lack of accuracy of John Ridley.


TV

Hahahaha, just kidding. If you can find any coverage on TV about writers striking against TV networks and movie studios, you get bonus points.


Read more strike coverage on the Huffington Post's writers' strike page.