The labor union argues that the Web has made it easy for people to view content where they want -- which isn't necessarily on news sites -- to the detriment of publishers' revenue. "Friends and colleagues can transmit web page links, Twitter feeds, and Facebook postings? other organizations (including rivals) can integrate stories into their own web pages and email feeds." the group says. "This makes it more difficult to tie revenue streams to particular shows or outlets."
The Writers Guild also points out stories on the Web are "detached from real time," with consumers able to get articles on demand and writers able to continually update their stories.
The group concludes that, on balance, these changes haven't been for the better: "Writers have less and less time to think, ask questions, and write. There are fewer levels of editorial oversight, fewer checks and balances to ensure accuracy, and fewer opportunities to exercise editorial judgment."
To some extent, that might be true. But it's also overstated. Clearly some journalists have less time to work on stories, and less oversight, than in the past. At times, the result is the publication of rumors, distortions and outright lies -- even by mainstream media outlets. Earlier this month the CBS-owned ZDNet published -- then retracted -- a false report that Yahoo had given the Iranian government names of 200,000 users.
But even before the rise of the Internet, reporters for wire services and daily newspapers worked under very tight deadlines, and weren't always able to get a story right in the limited time frame they had. And some newspapers, not to mention magazines and book publishers, continue to distribute lengthy and heavily researched pieces.
The Writers Guild also appears to advocate that publishers start charging for content. "We think that people will choose to pay for quality news if the alternative is unreliable and undifferentiated babble. Most content is now free so the market does not require people to make that choice," the group said in its comments.
But the Writers Guild, like many others who say that papers should charge for online content, isn't putting forward any reason to believe that Web users' only choices will be quality or babble. Perhaps more significantly for the newspaper industry, the group also isn't putting forward any reason to believe that an incremental increase in revenue from charging for online stories will offset the ad dollars that have been lost forever to sites like Craigslist.