Editor’s Note: This statement is being published simultaneously at many of the SB Nation MLB communities. It may or may not represent the feelings of any contributors besides myself.
Purple Row doesn’t currently have any staff living in California, so it’s not directly affected by the actions described below. But we’ve had contributors and editors from California in the past, and it’s not hard to imagine how Vox Media’s solution to California’s Assembly Bill 5 could have had a major negative impact on the quality of the site so many of us rely on.
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Last week we learned that our peers at the California-based SB Nation communities would face major changes under California Assembly Bill 5. You can read the full text of the bill here, but essentially, AB 5 attempts to address the rise of the gig economy and the lack of labor protections afforded to those workers by limiting the use of classifying workers as “independent contractors” rather than full-fledged employees.
What has evolved into the SB Nation collection of communities started more than 15 years ago, fittingly with one California-based site. Today, there exists a platform for every Major League Baseball team’s fanbase, led by a passionate staff of writers and editors who are deeply embedded within their fanbases. SB Nation sites are important because they represent the voices of passionate fans. They write articles that encompass every aspect of being a fan of that team: game recaps, latest news, trade rumors, team history, minor-league reports, draft coverage, and more, all with comment sections moderated by the editorial team that gives every fan an opportunity to contribute to the discussion. The significance of these spaces for fans cannot be understated.
That’s why, collectively, we find the recent announcement of changes for our colleagues in California disquieting.
On Monday, December 16, most of us learned through Twitter or a post on the main SB Nation site that a significant number of our friends and colleagues were losing their jobs. Some have landed on their feet in another capacity within SB Nation, and we are proud of their continued success.
Unfortunately, for many, this isn’t possible. The hundreds of contractors this law impacts — everyone writing for a California-based site, regardless of where they live, and every California resident writing for SB Nation, regardless of what site they write for — have been given three choices: fight for a small number of full-time positions, write for free, or quit writing for SB Nation altogether.
The ramifications of this decision extend beyond the California-based sites, too.
Many sites across the network have contributors and editorial staff based in California. These writers face the same set of choices outlined above. While SB Nation has agreed not to revoke access to Vox’s publishing platform for them, creating instead the new role of “Community Insider,” Community Insider positions are unpaid and on a volunteer basis, limiting Community Insiders to those who are willing or able to write for free, a decision that negatively impacts the diversity of our communities.
Therefore, we call on SB Nation to investigate a means to keep these individuals in the fold. Some of these authors provide content at a rate of more than one post per day, in addition to social media, editing, and other duties. They represent the pillars of our communities and deserve an opportunity to be considered for part-time employment or another equitable solution.
Even those sites with no connection to the state of California may be impacted by similar laws in the future. New York had a similar bill introduced at the end of the state legislative session this past June; New Jersey already has a similar law in the works, and other states are likely to follow. If the majority of states pass similar “gig economy” laws, the shape of SB Nation communities will change drastically.
We also ask, as we have since AB 5 passed, for communication.
We, as the leaders of our individual communities, call for timely transparency from Vox and SB Nation. Let us know what the plan is, and how it affects us, as soon as possible. These communications should be handled through internal means. As each community is different, allowing an open comment period to address any concerns or challenges would also be beneficial for all parties involved.
Everyone knew change was coming. The law that prompted this was common knowledge, and more than once we asked about the plan. Something as simple as letting us know there was a plan would have sufficed, yet we found out via social media, and in a manner that left most of us wondering about our own futures. Going forward, we ask that future communications are handled differently.
After years of hard work, the result of which has been our sites becoming the online homes for many fans, we believe that our California communities and contributors deserved better.
The law allows the option for them all to become employees. We recognize that business realities likely do not. For those in the newly created full-time roles, we congratulate you. For the hundreds of others who cannot or will not find themselves in that position, we offer our support and solidarity. For all of us, we hope that the next round of changes are handled in a more thoughtful fashion.