Why Newspapers Love the Striking Screenwriters
For the same reason journalists love themselves.
Newspaper reporters tend to identify with their cinematic brethren because writers tend to look out for other writers no matter what genre they work in. One New York Times article from this week noted with no irony how book authors will suffer if Steven Colbert and Jon Stewart's shows, now crippled by the strike, don't get back into production soon. Also, from a distance, the Writers Guild strike shimmers with heroism for liberal journalists at the Los Angeles Times (which has no union) and the New York Times and Washington Post (which have weakling unions). They're living vicariously through their comrades' glorious struggle.
This identification runs deeper than labor politics. Where their predecessors once hoped to write the Great American Novel, too many of today's newspaper reporters and editors will confide over drinks the big screenplay they want to write based on that murder story they covered, that business takeover, that guerilla battle, that crime caper, that city hall corruption saga, and so on.
Some of them have even been contacted by Hollywood at some point in their careers about the stories they've written, and keep copies of one of Syd Field's screenwriting guides on their desks at home. They daydream of joining Nora Ephron, Paul Attanasio, William Broyles Jr., Cameron Crowe, Joe Eszterhas, David Simon, David Mills, Aaron Latham, or even Peter Landesman as journalist-screenwriter hyphenates.
For the daydreamers, writing about the strike is pure fantasy league.
Addendum, Nov. 15:Silicon Alley Insider Managing Editor Peter Kafka directs my attention to his publication's tough love for the striking screenwriters: "Hollywood Writer: Screw SAI, The Web Looks Great!," "Er, "Go Writers!": The Role of Unions in a Competitive World," "Another Writers' Strike? (CBS) Why No One Has Sympathy," and "Hollywood Writers' Strike Explained: $7.2 M Apart On Digital." Alex Parker adds Roger Ebert to the list of journalists turned screenwriters. David Samuels does the same for William Monahan.
Kim Masters and Troy Patterson, who have nothing in the way of an IMDB profile, have written about the strike for Slate. Defiant (and successful!) whore Neal Pollack is another issue altogether. Why should screenwriters participate in Web revenues, anyway? Brooks Barnes explains in an August New York Times news story that it's a historical accident that residuals exist in the first place. Did I miss any important contemporary journalist-screenwriters in my list? Send nominations to firstname.lastname@example.org. (E-mail may be quoted by name in "The Fray," Slate's readers' forum, in a future article, or elsewhere unless the writer stipulates otherwise. Permanent disclosure: Slate is owned by the Washington Post Co.)