California for a long time has held massive influence over the American media landscape thanks in large part to the prevalence of California based freelance writers. Networking together these writers have helped ensure their friends and family were able to find gigs and get submissions looked at when the company was swamped with a multitude of promising writers looking to begin making a name for themselves. Thanks to AB 5 this influence over the media landscape is coming to an end.
AB 5 drafted by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez is a piece of legislation whose intended purpose was to clamp down on corporations circumventing national and state employment laws via the employment of contracted rather than employed labor.
Hollywood Reporter reports the scope of the bill does not limit itself to tackling abuses of employment loopholes to circumvent having to pay unemployment tax and provide the benefits prescribed by the law to employees, but quickly expanded its scope to be a socialist regulation of the employment market. Extensive in reach it will have far reaching and economically disastrous impact on more than just journalism in California. Companies the likes of Lyft and Uber will no longer be allowed to consider their drivers independent contractors and will have to be employed by the company. It is a legitimate concern that many companies who utilize contractual labor legitimately may simply opt to abandon the state all together rather than be forced to fully employ said people.
Under AB 5 all work must undergo the ABC test to ensure it meets the requirement to be considered contractual labor. Any subsequent failure to meet any of the three ABCs will require the company to either limit the amount of work they can employ from a person or employ them into the company. In the case of Freelance writers, whom will never be able to qualify or pass any of the ABCs standards, that limit is 35 articles per outlet a year.
The law itself does not outline what the ABC test entails but references other laws that have defined the scope of the tests outline. Thus this law is entangled with other legislation creating an interlocking framework of legislation that will difficult to untangle as it grows more extensive. Californian Employment Law Report describes the outline of the test as so:
1) Part A of the test requires that the worker is free from the control and direction of the hiring entity in connection with the performance of the work, both under the contract for the performance of the work and in fact; and
2) Part B of the test requires that the worker performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business; and
3) Part C of the test requires that the worker is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as the work performed.
At the core of the Hollywood Reporter’s story was the obvious observation that freelance writers will never be able to justify they don’t perform the same labor as the contractor in question does. Thus AB 5 will be applied to them limiting the scope of their submissions. What is missed in their analysis is under “A” freelance writers cannot be subjected to editorial guidelines or revisions by editors. Part C outright restricts a company from having non professional writers publish regular pieces. For instance if a gamer were to write articles, but not be a professional writer the outlet would be limited to only publishing 35 pieces from said author.
What this creates is the massive problem for companies no longer being able to employ reliable talent. If you have a freelance tech writer you need to be able to rely that you can have him/her able to write a piece if controversy erupts over a product. With 52 weeks in a year said authors will only be reliable for a maximum of 35 weeks of the year for a single piece per week. Understandably companies are abandoning Californian Freelance writers already going to other states for their writing talent while companies in California are examining the scope of the legislation.
In this possesses the largest danger to the California market of Freelance writers. As previously stated the state’s range of influence over various industries and media companies is quite extensive, but many of those same outlets are suffering from declining readership, profits, and public interests or have seen their market cap level off on an industry level. As companies invest in talent across the country they may soon learn their problems originated squarely from their previous freelance writing talent.
It won’t take much to bring this about. One company who previously was seeing declining results sees their new writers from various states start drawing in not just greater viewer numbers, but expanding the audience visiting the site as a result of articles written from perspectives outside the Californian echo chamber the word of this success will spread fairly quickly. Companies are already gradually waking up to getting woke is not a viable marketing position or strategy. Add to that realizing talent outside California can better represent the interest of the audience and you have a recipe for the accelerated decline of the Californian influence.
It should be no surprise that the writer of this bill was a former labor organizer whose aims in regards to freelance writers were the prevention of news rooms from busting unions. Already there is an attempt by freelance writers to organize to do something about this bill they ignored for nearly a year while constantly deriding Trump’s media meddling. Yet these efforts are meaningless as the bill will go into effect January 1st and will be in effect for a minimal span of a year before it can be repealed. During that year companies will simply opt to not hire Californian freelance talent and after that year it will be a wonder if they’ll even want to return to employing said talent again.
Even if as an industry they do not see a significant improvement they’ll have these new writers on for months if not the solid year. For the consumers this means a potential move away from the “gamers don’t have to be your audience” cabal, “Rey is the bestest ever” and “those that don’t agree are mysoginerds” coven, and the ever distasteful “Orange Man bad” brigade. But I wouldn’t hold my breath on the last one or any significant change from ideologically ran outlets.
During this change these freelance writers losing their positions might want to look into learning to code.