Reflecting on value, the Writers Guild strike, and my employment

A columnist wonders what her future will look like as a journalist with SMA

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by Sherry Toh |

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On May 2, members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) held their first strike since 2007-2008.

The WGA is a joint partnership of labor unions on the East and West coasts, each composed of writers in film, television, radio, and online media. When writers and the studios that employ them failed to reach a compromise for contract negotiations, over 11,000 WGA members shut down productions across the U.S. Among their demands are better pay and a ban on artificial intelligence taking over their jobs as scriptwriters.

The strike comes at a point when there are intense cost-of-living crises worldwide. In Singapore, where I live, we’ve watched the cost of necessities like groceries rise and our government hike our goods and services tax over the last few months. All the while, the job market here is expected to slow. My family has already felt the first winds of the storm, in fact, with my mum struggling to find a part-time job with a wage that can keep pace with rising costs.

As for myself, a games journalist who freelances for publications in the U.S. and U.K., pitching opportunities have shrunk considerably. Since last autumn, I’ve watched media organization after media organization either sunset their gaming sites and verticals or conduct mass layoffs. This means that there are fewer publications to pitch to and more journalists to compete with for freelance commissions or positions in game development.

The gaming sites that haven’t shuttered or laid off staff are unfortunately clinging to dear life. Freelance budgets have either been slashed or become nonexistent, and staff aren’t getting raises to cover increased living expenses. A lot of the time, this all happens despite news companies maintaining or even increasing their readership.

In short, I’m concerned about where our societies are headed economically. Because as every disabled person knows, in addition to daily needs, healthcare can break the bank.

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One thing that’s been uplifting, despite the circumstances, is the slew of support WGA writers have received — not just from people in the U.S., but from writers worldwide. It’s heartening to see people unite around the belief that writing is important to the human experience and that writers who add value to our lives deserve fair compensation.

But at the same time, it’s made me think about how the vulnerable and disadvantaged often have to settle for whatever we can get.

Take me, for instance. I may have contributed to various publications, written for the first printed disability studies anthology in Singapore, and am a middle-class citizen in one of the world’s richest countries. Yet since I lack the advantages of academic guidance and certification, and require accommodations because I have SMA, I’ve had a tough time earning an income and finding a job.

That means that whenever a work opportunity comes along, I have to take it even if I’m underpaid. It’s against the advice of many professionals I’ve met or heard about, both freelancers and full-timers. The logic is, if everyone works for less money, it drives the value of our jobs ever lower. Still, it’s rare to find opportunities and people who believe in my capabilities, and I need the money and experience to form a portfolio and résumé that can compete with others.

Being in this situation makes me more fearful than I want to be. I get anxious about the next medical emergency, about my parents getting older, and about whether I’m making the right decisions. I have to tell myself to just do the best I can in everything.

Changes in values

This column was, admittedly, a sad one for me to write. When I was a teen, I was adamant that I would never work in sales or marketing. I passed up multiple opportunities to be trained in online sales and work for e-commerce companies.

I had personal morals that clashed with what I saw as the “manipulative” nature of selling things — things I likely wouldn’t use myself or recommend to people in my life. I didn’t feel like I’d be adding value to society, and I wanted to do something that could leave the world better than I found it.

Fast forward to adulthood, and I’m freelancing in journalism, a field I believe is invaluable to society but doesn’t pay me enough. So I’m looking elsewhere. My dream job is to be a writer for video games. Second to that is a job in online community management or something else writing-related. Alas, the economic situation is so bad that I’m looking at sales jobs.

Nevertheless, I’m rooting for the WGA and other writers. Fingers crossed we survive to write a better world into existence.

Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.


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