Commentary

California Newspapers Near One-Year Reprieve On Gig-Worker Restrictions

Newspapers in California are close to receiving a one-year exemption to the state's gig-worker law that's already harmed countless independent contractors, including freelance writers. The "Save Local Journalist Act" last month squeaked through the state's final legislative session, and as of press time, awaits Gov. Gavin Newsome's signature to become law.

The bill gives local newspapers another year to comply with Assembly Bill 5, a sweeping law enacted this year to classify workers as full-time employees instead of contractors, based on several criteria. AB5 will raise distribution costs for newspaper publishers by forcing them to hire delivery drivers.

Realistically, publishers won't be able to afford to hire all those contractors as employees. Instead, they'll keep their distribution costs in check by cutting back on delivery days. Readers who prefer to get their news in print will ultimately suffer.

Newspapers in California faced the possibility of an 85% jump in newspaper delivery costs, according to David Chavern, president and CEO of News Media Alliance, a trade group that represents more than 2,000 news organizations. Those higher costs would squeeze publishers faced with revenue declines of 30% to 50% because of the pandemic recession, and increase the likelihood of shutting down.

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Ethnic communities would suffer the most by losing access to the more than 300 news outlets that serve African American, Latino, Native American, Japanese and Chinese readers.

Despite the passage of the "Save Local Journalism Act," I doubt California's lawmakers really care about the sorry state of journalism. They would much prefer to operate in a world without a press watchdog. Forcing publishers to suffer financial hardship and shut down for economic reasons is easier than opposing press freedoms enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.

Ironically, most journalists at California newspapers are cheerleaders for AB5, happily slipping into the nooses to hang themselves.

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