NYC probes wage theft targeting freelancers

Meanwhile, reality TV writers, producers vote to unionize

(William Alatriste, NY City Council) Councilman and labor committee chair Daneek Miller.

NYC Councilman Daneek Miller (William Alatriste)

by Rebecca Rosen Lum

Liz Morrison worked 15-hour days without overtime pay as an associate producer on the National Geographic show “Humanly Impossible,” which from Harrison’s account might better be dubbed “Inhumane and Impossible.”

So rampant is wage theft in the reality TV industry that the New York City Council is probing what the Writers Guild of America called “sweatshop conditions” for freelance workers, writes Corinne Lestch of the New York Daily News.

It sounds like nobody enjoys great working conditions in reality TV-land: Employees who do the same work today voted overwhelmingly to join the WGA, reports Jordan Zakarin, a writer for Hollywood’s “The Wrap.”

Some companies hire employees, and others use freelancers to do the same jobs — and some use both, depending on the project, Zakarin told Guild Freelancers.

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Awards honorees feted at San Francisco soiree

News Guild secretary-treasurer Sara Steffens gives David Bacon the Raul Ramirez award (Photo: Frank Ladra)

News Guild secretary-treasurer Sara Steffens gives David Bacon the Raul Ramirez award (Photo: Frank Ladra)

by Calla Camero

Some 28 independent journalists won honors at the first annual Freelance Journalism Awards celebration Thursday in San Francisco.

The Freelance Unit of the Pacific Media Workers Guild, part of the Newspaper Guild/CWA, sponsored the competition to laud freelancers working in a variety of media. Judges received 150 entries for a contest encompassing 17 categories, including photography, investigative reporting, political cartooning, sports coverage, and more. The competition was open to anyone in the region’s reach, which includes California and Hawaii, or any unit member elsewhere in the country so long as the work was published on a freelance basis during the calendar year 2013.

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Freelance Journalism Awards


News, single story, any medium
1st Place: “Standoff in the Strawberry Fields,” David Bacon, Al Jazeera America
In this Al Jazeera America piece, Bacon’s word and photos show the rock-bottom wages and dilapidated housing that lead migrant workers to strike at Sakuma Brothers — and the flawed immigration policy that allowed the  Washington berry farm to bring in a new group of guest workers shortly afterward.
2nd Place: “Lost in Translation,” Momo Chang, East Bay Express
Award of Excellence/Honorable Mention: Egypt’s New Protest Law provokes demonstrations, backlash,” Shadi Rahimi, Al Monitor

News, Investigative/Enterprise
1st Place:Lead or Die,” E.B. Boyd,
With the U.S. wars of the last decade fading from the awareness of many American’, E.B. Boyd’s Lead or Die details the work and strategies that will ultimately determine if those conflicts will be successful. This report is well written and relies on extensive interviews in a distant land. It tells the story of a soldier who departs from the manual, to develop an effective military unit of Afghan soldiers. Boyd’s report goes beyond the military press briefing to the people and place where the real events are taking place.
3rd Place:Earthquake Retrofit Delays Leave Thousands at Risk,” Noah Arroyo, Barbara Grady, SF Public Press
Award of Excellence: “‘Chemicals of High Concern’ Found in Thousands of Children’s Products,” Jane Kay, Environmental Health News
News, In-Depth/ Explanatory
1st Place:Faces of an Amnesty” — by Erin Siegal McIntyre, Christian Science Monitor
In this Christian Science Monitor cover story, McIntyre examines this history of U.S. immigration policy and the long-term effects of past amnesty programs on immigrant families – including a migrant farmworker family that has since sent all seven of their children to college. 
2nd Place:  “Surveillance” series, Ali Winston, Center for Investigative Reporting
3rd Place:US Style School Reform Goes South,” David Bacon, The Nation

1st Place:The $5 million question: should college athletes buy disability insurance?” Kevin Fixler, The Atlantic

The $5 million question: should college athletes buy disability insurance? was well-written, well-researched and laid out an interesting story for the reader.


1st Place:An unusual heavy metal love story,” Beth Winegarner, The New Yorker

Fascinating subject that paints a clear picture of the metal scene in Egypt. Great read that left me wanting more.

2nd Place:  “Following the sun to the heart of Mexico’s mining crisis,” Laura Waxmann, El Tecolote


1st Place: Package of five columns, Joel Engardo, San Francisco Examiner

 The writer takes on offbeat but important stories about life in San Francisco, and tells them with wit, style and skill

2nd place: Package of five columns, Jonathan Curiel, SF Weekly

3rd place: Package of five columns, Michael Singman-Aste, Alameda magazine


Short-Form Feature

1st Place: “Trader Joe’s: an Empire in Search of a Pirate,” Patricia Yollin, San Francisco Chronicle

Timely, well written and most of all, surprising. The story of a man who buys huge quantities of goods from Trader Joes and then resells it — at a profit — in Canada. It’s the kind of story that people talk about over the breakfast table.

2nd Place: “U.S. Veterans’ Plight at the Border,” Laura Waxmann

Long-Form Feature

1st Place: “Deported Warriors,” Erin Siegal McIntyre and Luis Alberto Urrea (not available online), Playboy magazine

Who knew there’s a sizable cadre of US service people who never became citizens and are stuck on the Mexican side of the border? Vivid, but controlled, writing, great photograph and a compelling story make this piece a winner. Well done!

2nd place:Out of the Closet, into Exile,” Shuka Kalantari,


1st Place:  “Lawrence,” Alice Elizabeth Rogoff,

2nd Place:  “The Village of Mad, Hungary,” Alice Elizabeth Rogoff,


Artwork/graphic design

1st Place:We Don’t Belong,” Erin Siegel Mcintyre, Symbolia magazine

This graphic novel-style storytelling device draws you into someone’s life that would have been hard to access and show otherwise. Top-notch. 

2nd Place: A four-part entry of editorial cartoons on government dysfunction and the government shutdown. Steve Greenberg, Ventura County Reporter.

3rd Place:Jean Franco is Frida Kahlo,” a photo montage showing one actor in two roles. Mabel Jimenez, El Tecolote

Sports photo

1st Place:And Still WBA champion of the world! Andre Ward outclasses Edwin Rodriguez,” Malaika Kambon, San Francisco Bay View Reporter

This photographer has an obvious affinity for the world of boxing. Two images made this story stand out: one was the lead image of the decisive moment, a man beating another man’s skull as sweat flew into the air, and the other was intimate moment of Andre Ward with a look of desperation, recuperating in his corner.

Feature photo

1st Place: Erin Siegel McIntyre, “Tent City of Deportees,” Al Jazeera America

Erin’s pictures gave a window into a scene most of us haven’t seen before. She obviously put in time getting to know her subjects and help them feel comfortable, which produced a range of images that furthered the story.

2nd Place: Indigenous peoples’ day at Alcatraz (part of a slide show), Mabel Jimenez, El Tecolote

 News photo

1st Place: “AlanBlueford,” Malaika Kambon, San Francisco Bay View Newspaper

It was a nice intimate moment that connected with the grieving family. I would have loved to see the release of the bird and also the reaction of the subjects. The entry should have been captioned in the IPTC field.


1st Place:If it Swings: An Asian-American Jazzman’s Pioneering Career, Heidi Chang, NPR

A compelling piece that tells an important, but to some, little known story  — the role of Asian Americans in Jazz. It is produced beautifully and skillfully, combining music, interviews and narration. It was an easy choice for the judges. 

1st Place:Make Money Save the Planet,” Anna Vignet, SF Public Press

An interesting, out of the box approach to telling a complex story that would otherwise only show pictures of smokestacks.   “Save money, save the planet,” published by the SF Public Press, includes a board game, audio piece, and story on California Cap and Trade.


Student Writing

1st Place: “Biblical Psedo-Archaeologists Pillaging the West Bank,” Dylan Bergeson, The Atlantic

2nd Place: “Welcome to Creation, the Christian Music Fest where the Flock Rocks,” Alana Levinson and Aaron Mendelson, Mother Jones

Student Broadcast

1st Place:  “An Equation to Predict Crime,” Aaron Mendelson, PRX

2nd place: “Young Immigration Activist Struggles to Balance Courage with Fear,” Jasmin Mara Lopez, the California Report, KQED

3rd place:  “Should Steelworkers get paid to get dressed?” Aaron Mendelson, Marketplace



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