November 16, 2007

WFOR; the "Eye on South Florida"gives Truth a Shiner - UPDATED Nov 27, 2007

Unless you're living in a cave, by now you've heard that the Writers' Guild is on strike. This is the organization that represents the men and women who write scripts for television shows and movies.

The basis of that strike is the fact that producers are making millions of dollars from digital distribution,( DVD sales, streaming media, and all those various other means that allow you to see your favorite TV show without actually having to tune in to the network during the broadcast.) and writers aren't being paid anything. Well, they make four cents on each DVD, but bupkus for the rest of it.

I've already covered this in an earlier blog, but I wanted to set a little background for this story.

WFOR's Jawan Strader put together a small story on the local impact of the strike. South Florida makes millions of dollars from various film and television productions that come here to film on location. Burn Notice is the biggest ongoing project, but CSI:Miami tapes enough footage to give their show an extremely thin veneer of Miami flavor.

Jawan Strader, from his WFOR bio

He interviewed Greg Howard, a locally based screenwriter (and a successful one), as well as Graham Winick, the Film and Event Production Manager with the City of Miami Beach.

It's what follows those interviews that sends the story awry.

When I first saw the story, it was the transcript on the website; the video footage hadn't been aired yet. And here's the paragraph that concludes that version of the story:
"The strike has also impacted some live theater productions throughout the area. And in June, Hollywood insiders say we could see another strike involving actors and directors."
The problem with this statement is that the first sentence is completely false.

You may know that I work in live theater. I've worked in professional South Florida theater for over twenty years. I know pretty much everyone in live theater down here on a first name basis, and most of them know me. We all borrow stuff back and forth, and we all use the same pool of actors, designers, and technicians.

So it's not hard to understand that I know what's going on around the South Florida Theatre Scene. I've even started a BLOG about it. Someone would have mentioned it if they had to close a show early, or cancel a production outright, because of the writers' strike.

The fact is that the Writers' Guild strike has had zero impact on live theater in South Florida. No plays have been canceled, no one is worried about losing the rights to a script down the line. You see, unlike Hollywood, we don't hire writers. They don't work for us. A playwright writes a script, and if a theater likes it, we pay them a royalty for the right to do the show. There are no issues about residuals, because we have no recordings of the shows. It's all done "live." The playwright gets his royalty fee, and often a percentage of the house. There's no union, and no collective bargaining to set rates. Often, there's an agency. But each playwright or licensing firm sets its own fee schedule. We don't dictate those rates, they are more or less set by market forces.

I was wondering where the heck anyone could come up with a piece of drivel like this. I decided to write to Mr. Strader and ask him.

He called me back within minutes. He asked when the story had aired, and I told him I'd only read the text on the website. He seemed a little confused at my questions.

You see, his report ended differently than what WFOR put up on the website.

His broadcast version ended like this:

"As far as ... plays are concerned, I did put in a call to the Carnival Center, and they said they had no comment at this time, but then they did say that the business side of the Carnival Center would not be impacted.
But according to the writers, this strike could have a secondary impact on the center, as well as other centers like the Carnival Center across the country. And in June, we could see another strike involving actors and directors."
After I read him what was on the WFOR website, he agreed that the web version drastically altered the tenor of his story. And watching the tape, he very definitely does not say that there has been any impact on theatre in South Florida yet.

Before we concluded our conversation, he said that he'd talk to the person responsible for the internet version of the report and have the live theater reference removed. "I wouldn't want anyone to reach the wrong conclusion, and what it says certainly could do that." I thanked him, and went on with my day.

Later that night, I noticed the story was "Updated!" I looked at the story, and found no change to the transcript, but only that the video clip was now available. And yes, as Jawan told me earlier, his version of the story is different than the posted version. In fact, the broadcast version is far superior to the posted text; it contains a lot more information, and a lot more quotes.

I have to say that I don't like inaccuracies in news. So I used the feedback form on the website to let WFOR know that it's reporting something that simply isn't true.

This is the letter I sent in to WFOR.

As some one who works in local professional theater, I have to inform you of a factual error in one of the stories posted on your website.

The url is

The error is at the end of the story: "The strike has also impacted some live theater productions throughout the area." This is incorrect. The Writers' Guild strike has had no effect on live theater whatsoever, and it will not have any affect in the future. Live theater doesn't use Writers' Guild screenwriters. We pay a royalty directly to playwrights or to their agents. There is no relationship between the writers' union and live theater.

I spoke to Mr. Strader about his story earlier today, and I believe this to be an editorial mistake; he maintains that he did not report any effects on local live theater, and his on-air report jibes with that. I pointed out that live theater and screenwriters have no effect on one another, and he agreed that the effects on theater would be "secondary, at best." I know a number of actors who will see a loss of income from TV and film work, but that only makes them more available to do live theater.

He also said he'd speak to the content editor about removing the erroneous claim. But the story was updated at 8:11pm and the error remains.The only foreseeable impact that the strike may have on live theater is an increase in our ticket sales as people tire of re-runs.

Please correct this story, or post some evidence to support your claims. The story is compelling enough without making stuff up.


I did receive a response this afternoon, saying they were looking into it. But here we are, over 24 hours since I reported the error, and it's still there.

Sorry, guys. I gave you a chance to fix it.

I do not blame Jawan Strader. His story was forthright, honest, and provided a great local angle to a problem rooted across the country. He even thought to check for deeper local effects by calling the Carnival Center. Of course, the Carnival Center isn't a great way to measure the local theater scene since most of its productions are national tours that come in from all over the country, but it shows incentive. I gave him some names of local producers to chat with, for next time.

Whoever is translating the broadcast footage to a written format is failing to maintain the accuracy of the story. In a fit of laziness or lack of comprehension, they changed the story from an accurate report of local impact to an outright lie, and Mr. Strader - and the management of WFOR - should be outraged. What is the point of going to all the effort to get the facts straight only to have some nameless copy editor butcher the story and make a liar of you?

UPDATED NOVEMBER 27******************************************************

I just received an email from David Game, executive producer for CBS4. Apparently someone found this blog entry and forwarded it to him, and action was FINALLY taken, only eleven days after the error was pointed out to them. The story on their website is now actually TRUE, and that's what we were after.

Mr. Game apologized for the delay in taking action; he confirmed that they received my original message, and that an email was sent to staff to look into it, but obviously someone dropped the ball.

Mistakes happen to the best of us, and certainly I recognize that they happen. No one can expect any work of mankind to be without flaw. I wasn't angry when I sent them notice of the error, and I wasn't angry when I posted this blog. After all, *I* didn't make the mistake. If anyone deserves an apology, it's Jawan Strader. He's the one who had words stuck in his mouth. I hope that whoever screwed the pooch is making it up to Mr. Strader.

Perhaps he or she can wash Jawan's car for a month or two. That sounds fair to me.

And as for Mr. Game: you've corrected your website; but how about balancing eleven days of a false story? Have Jawan Strader interview a few artistic directors, to get the real story on how the Writers' strike is affecting local theater. Talk to David Arisco of Actors' Playhouse, Paul Tei of MadCat Theater, Joe Adler of GableStage, and Ricky Martinez at New Theater. There's also Richard J. Simon of the Mosaic Theater, Kim St. Leon of InsideOut, and Antonio Amadeo of The Naked Stage. I'm not saying talk to ALL of them. But these are the people who MAKE local theatre; these are the people who knows what impact national events might have on it.

You spent eleven days telling the world that these companies have been "impacted" by the Writers' Guild Strike. Now I challenge you to give the public the real story. I guarantee that you'll find a story in it.

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