Guest column: In this war of the words, new media was a winner


Thanks largely to new media, the writers strike has been the most written-about strike in Hollywood's history -- and quite possibly, in American history.

The new media -- half a dozen 24-hour cable news channels, Web sites, Internet magazines and the blogosphere -- have churned out more than a million words about the strike. Add to that stories written by the "old media" -- newspapers, the broadcast nets, talk and late-night shows, and radio -- and the sheer volume of words written about the strike appears to have surpassed all the words the American media, new and old, has devoted to a strike.

Entertainment, like virtually no other industry in America, touches almost everyone's life. So when there's a strike in Hollywood, everybody hears about it. For the past three months, you could have asked just about anyone in the country, "Who's on strike?" and there's a good chance they'd have said, "The writers."

The last time there was an industrywide stoppage against the film and TV production companies -- the writers strike of 1988 -- Ronald Reagan was president and the fax machine was still a pretty new, slow and noisy newsroom gizmo. There were only three TV networks and only one 24-hour news channel. The Internet was in his infancy: There was no e-mail, no blogosphere, no Internet mags, and the writers guild didn't even have a Web site.

Today, the communications landscape has been transformed by hundreds of thousands of Web sites and millions of bloggers, many of whom have weighed in on the writers strike.

A Google search of "writers strike" turns up 770,000 hits -- seven times more hits than "steel strike," the next highest, and 20 times more than "actors strike." "Steel strike" gets 110,000 hits, followed by "teachers strike" with 92,400 hits; "railroad strike" (60,500); "airline strike" (36,000); "stagehands strike" (32,900); "mine strike" (30,100); "actors strike" (29,700); "newspaper strike" (25,100); "air traffic controllers" strike (24,600) and "coal miners strike" (24,600).

Ironically, all this strike coverage comes at a time when labor reporters are becoming extinct at the old media.

There was a time when nearly every major newspaper in the country had a labor reporter, but today they are a vanishing breed. According to a recent Newspaper Guild report, labor reporting is a beat facing "near extinction." Over the past 60 years, union membership nationwide has declined almost every year, from a high of 33% in 1948 to only 12.5% today. And the number of reporters who call themselves labor reporters has sunk with it.

But in Hollywood, nearly everyone's in a union, and thousands of industry workers are in two or more unions and guilds. And in Hollywood, labor reporting is still a valued beat.

So love the strike coverage or hate it, one thing is certain -- there was sure a lot of it.

David Robb is a former labor reporter at The Hollywood Reporter.