Guild presses federal government for more support

The Writers Guild of America East has issued a gloomy outlook for the news business and urged the federal government to provide more support for public broadcasting.

In comments filed Friday to the Federal Trade Commission, the WGA East asserted that it’s becoming more difficult to create “reliable, informative material in the face of unrelenting budget cuts.”

The guild issued the comments as a prelude to its plans to participate in FTC workshops on Dec. 1 and 2 on the impact of new media on journalism and the financial problems of the industry. About 25% of the 4,000 WGA East members are newswriters.

“There is a different, workable model for presenting carefully investigated, thoughtful news and public affairs programming — public broadcasting (or ‘public media’ in the digital age),” the WGA East said. “Unfortunately, public television and public radio have been systematically underfunded for many years, so a very large infusion of capital would be required to make this a viable alternative to the existing large newsgathering companies.”

The WGA said that with so many more sources of news, it has become more difficult for news organizations to identify a workable revenue model while controlling quality.

“Writers have less and less time to think, ask questions and write,” the guild said. “There are fewer levels of editorial oversight, fewer checks and balances to ensure accuracy and fewer opportunities to exercise editorial judgment.”

The guild also said it believes that quality journalism will prevail eventually, but not under the current model.

“It would be bad public policy to allow the current newsgathering system to fail in the interim,” the WGA East said. “It would be very difficult to rebuild the industry from scratch; professional journalism might not make it through the transition period.”

The FCC is examining the future of journalism as well. Last week, the agency tapped Steven Waldman, former journo and co-founder of Beliefnet, to lead an initiative designed to assess “the state of media in these challenging economic times.”

Waldman will serve as a special advisor to FCC chairman Julius Genachowski.

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