Much has been made about which side is winning the public relations battle two weeks into the writers' strike. If you believe studies and most media reports, the Writers Guild is trouncing the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers so far.
While that makes for nice headlines, the truth is the PR battle is meaningless in this war. Neither media coverage nor public opinion got the sides back to the table, nor will they affect a deal getting done.
Meanwhile, the supposed PR battle continues on two fronts: public opinion and media coverage. Last week, a Pepperdine University national poll found that 63% of the public favored the writers, 4% percent backed the studios and 33% were unsure. In another poll of Los Angeles residents only, conducted by SurveyUSA, 69% favored the writers and 8% the AMPTP.
It sounds great for the writers, until you actually talk to people involved in negotiations. “The public relations battle is one of the most overrated aspects of this kind of contract negotiation,” says WGA West executive director David Young.
Here's a real headline: AMPTP chief Nick Counter agrees. “This is about bargaining and nothing else,” he told me.
Polls can say what they want, but everyone I talk to outside the business—especially folks located anywhere outside either New York or Los Angeles—views this as a bunch of rich people fighting over billions of dollars. They just want their shows to stay on; they don't care who gets what.
I asked several people on the writers' side if mobilizing fans to pressure the studios was a worthwhile tactic. Reactions were mild at best. Plus, getting TV fans fired up enough to get off the couch and do anything is tough. Just ask the NFL or Big Ten Networks.
On the media front, the WGA has been successful in a bid to get coverage. Big rallies have kept the press interested so far, and members are flooding the Internet with blogs and homemade videos to get the message out.
It's worked: Much of the coverage has reflected the WGA's efforts, while the AMPTP is happy to sit back and let the writers get issues off their chests.
Trade publications especially have been accused of being pro-company throughout the strike. Two weeks ago at a WGA rally, The Office creator Greg Daniels told myself and a Variety reporter that our strike coverage couldn't be unbiased because our parent company is a shill for the AMPTP, since we depend on the studios for ad dollars.
He and others must've been shocked when Variety ran a story last week claiming the WGA is “winning over the public,” noting that media coverage has been largely sympathetic to the writers.
At some point very soon, we in the media will run out of things to write about the strike. Next week, I am already plotting an exposé proving that writers who use duct tape to grip their picket signs aren't as militant as those who just go hand-on-wood and tough out the splinters.
But such cutting-edge journalism, much like the public's opinion, will have the same effect on this battle: none.
At some point, the sides will move a couple of numbers and close the deal they should have finished on Nov. 4. All the headlines and polls in the world won't make that happen any sooner.
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