The operator of a community newspaper in northern San Diego County is demanding an apology from Assemblywoman Lorena S. Gonzalez, the Democratic San Diego lawmaker whose legislation last year codified a test that reclassified ride share drivers, freelance journalists, artists and other independent contractors as employees of a company.
During an interview aired last week on San Diego TV station KUSI, Gonzalez responded to critics of the measure, Assembly Bill 5, by saying it provided protections for workers who might be exploited by companies who choose to misclassify them as independent contractors in order to avoid certain salary and benefit requirements.
“We’ve seen journalism companies, we’ve seen Coast News, in fact, is a great example, where they fired all their employees and said we will rehire you as an independent contractor,” Gonzalez said.
In a follow-up interview aired earlier this week on the same station, Chris Kydd, an executive with the Coast News Group, refuted the lawmaker’s comment, saying the newspaper company “never fired all of our employees.”
“On top of the carelessness of her claims, what she said is potentially damaging to our business as it brings the credibility of the Coast News Group and our brand in to question,” Kydd said before demanding the lawmaker apologize for her “irresponsible” comments.
“This is about our reputation, and about the integrity of our brand as a trusted and credible news resource,” Kydd said. “We worked too hard to build this reputation and appreciate the chance to defend our honor.”
Kydd said his news organization has been a victim of Gonzalez’s bill, which was signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom last September and took effect at the start of the year. Kydd said Coast News Group had “lost writers, we’ve had to cut back in some other areas — it’s causing a lot of stress, a distraction, and it’s affecting our ability to report the news.”
Kydd said some of the problems lie with how the bill was written, a sentiment echoed by other news organizations and freelance journalists alike. Among other things, the measure limits the number of contributions a freelance journalist can provide to an outlet to 35 in a single year, a limit Gonzalez later admitted was “a little arbitrary.”
Since the measure took effect, numerous news outlets have warned California-based freelance writers and editors that they would need to find work elsewhere. In December, Vox Media notified more than 200 freelance journalists that they would have their positions eliminated by the spring, and invited those journalists to apply for around two dozen open full-and part-time positions.
Many of those freelance writers affected by the job cuts have taken to Twitter, and a handful have criticized Gonzalez directly. The lawmaker has responded from her personal Twitter account, at one point telling those who were critical of A.B. 5 that they needed to “get over it.”
Two groups representing freelance writers and photographers are seeking to overturn A.B. 5 by suing the state in federal court, saying the law’s limitations for freelance journalists creates an “irrational and arbitrary” burden on their livelihoods.
As the lawsuit works its way through the court system, a lawmaker has proposed a separate measure that would carve out an exemption for journalists by lifting the arbitrary annual cap of 35 stories a year.