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Notes from the Reel World: The Board President's Column, June 2003

By Michael Donaldson

Dear IDA Members,

Writing for the media arts industry can be a noble and ennobling profession, and can be a lucrative one as well. But when writing nonfiction—documentaries, strands, limited series and, yes, reality TV—pay is too often minimal, and benefits are too often even less. On-screen credit for a job well done is something that the Documentary Credits Coalition has successfully fought for over the past 15 months. The top ten nonfiction cable networks made close to $2 billion in profits in 2002 from both advertising and subscriber fees. We want the nonfiction writer to have financial rewards also.

So your president and executive director are supporting a new initiative of the Writers Guild of America, west. In April the guild invited hundreds of nonfiction writers to its headquarters to announce that it is taking a more aggressive role in trying to secure WGA pay and benefits—health insurance, pension plan, residuals and fair and honest credits—for nonfiction writers. The guild also announced the formation of the Nonfiction Writers Caucus to ensure both a voice and a sense of solidarity. So if you are a writer, and your work has been distributed on networks, cable, in the theaters or on home video/DVD, please contact Gerry Daley at the WGA, west—whether you are a member of the Writers Guild or not—at 7000 West 3rd Street, Los Angeles, CA 90048.

In another important development, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences announced that it would expand its Emmy categories in nonfiction to include one for writing. This is great news for all who have toiled long hours as part of the documentary making process.

And in Washington, DC, things are also in flux. At press time, representatives of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) were conducting hearings around the country regarding media ownership. In the seven years since the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, we have seen a wholesale consolidation—most acutely in radio, but significantly in television—of ownership among a few corporate behemoths. This is troubling, especially for documentaries. Consolidation promotes homogeneity, which in turn impedes diversity of points of view and the panoply of stories to be told through documentaries. Please let the FCC know your thoughts. Write to Michael Powell, Chairman, Federal Communications Commission, 445 12th Street SW, Washington, DC 20054.

Closer to home, IDA is still fielding entries for its annual awards program. Don't miss out! The final deadline is June 13. For more information, go to By next issue, we will have finalized the 2003 Career Achievement Award, Preservation and Scholarship Award and Pioneer Award honorees.



Michael C. Donaldson
IDA Board President