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  • Sam White

Dear Writers: What the F*ck?

Photo by Dim Hou via Unsplash

Right now, the world is a very bleak place for writers.

During a writer’s strike, and during an unprecedented cost of living crisis, I was laid off from my full-time writing position without warning. The explanation given to me was that there were “budget cuts” and “downsizing,” despite recently having a company-wide meeting about record profits.

While I’m reeling from this unexpected loss, my story is nowhere near unique — in fact, it’s becoming the painful standard within this industry. While television and movie writers are striking for living wages in Hollywood, this past week, Hearst Magazine laid off 41 employees, and in June, National Geographic laid off ALL (yes, every single one) of its staff writers. Like I said: it’s bleak as fuck.

Dan Stone said it best: "The majority of us [journalists] will float around like barnacles, resting for precious periods of stability before getting scraped off and sent floating once again, desperately freelancing and hoping the next resting place appears soon. We are, all of us, buffeted by big economic and technological and political forces almost completely out of our control, just like most other people, from the gas station to the classroom to the coal mine."

And now that I am once again a directionless, floating barnacle, I'm terrified for what's next. Where do I go? Where will I land? Everyone wants to consume content, but no one wants to pay the ones who write it. As afraid as I am that I'll stay a hopeless, wandering barnacle being buffetted into the dark abyss of the ocean for all eternity, I also know that I'm going to swim like hell to find a new place to call home. I have to.

The art of storytelling is as ancient as humankind; it's a unique mechanism that's biologically ingrained in us as a species, being one of the most prolific things that differentiates us from all other living things; yet, it is one of the most undervalued (and underpaid) art forms there are.

And it's only being exacerbated by the introduction of advanced AI.

Fucking AI: the robo-barnacles that have sent so many of us careening from our rightful spots on the industry rocks and are rabidly looking to displace even more. AI may not have been the sole reason I was laid off, but it was certainly part of it – it is free labor. As we speak, we're seeing the demands of the writer’s on strike being answered by cartoonishly-evil CEOs saying, "We'll just get AI to do it, and you can 'demand-a-living-wage' yourself right into homelessness and destitution."

Thankfully, those writers don't seem to be giving up – and while I’m overjoyed that those writers are backed by a monolith such as the Actor's Guild, I can't help but feel helpless as writers in other industries don't have that kind of leverage; editors are certainly not fighting for better treatment of staff writers and freelancers.

So what is the answer to all of this? I'm not entirely sure, but I know it's not leaving the industry. However difficult, we can't let writing and creating stories die at the hands of machines and greedy executives who are hoarding the wealth generated by genius ideas that have been born from the brains of the same creatives they refuse to pay. We have to keep fighting. And hopefully, if we all persist, maybe the world won't be such a bleak place for writers anymore.

 White Ember Letters

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