OPINION: California freelance law muzzles student journalists like me
California freelance writers had a rough start to the new decade as Assembly Bill 5 officially took effect on January 1.
The new gig economy law, as its been called, was introduced by Democrat California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, and later was endorsed and signed into law by Democrat Governor Gavin Newsom.
AB-5, which has drawn bipartisan national criticism, enacts certain restrictions on freelance writers like me and the dozens of other Campus Reform Campus Correspondents throughout the Golden State. Under the new law, if writers publish more than 35 articles in a single calendar year with any given outlet, they are then considered "employees" of that outlet and thus eligible for the same benefits as traditional, full-time employees at that outlet.
While the bill was intended to protect the rights of workers, it will instead put many of them out of work or severely limit the amount of money they are able to make in a single year. As a student journalist who writes for Campus Reform both to make extra money to help pay for living expenses in college, as well as to build my writing portfolio, this new law would limit my ability to gain real-world experience while still in college, which will ultimately make finding a full-time job after college much more difficult.
Under AB-5, I can submit two articles per week to Campus Reform through March. After that, I will be unable to submit any more articles to Campus Reform until January of the following year. To substitute for the amount of money I would make with Campus Reform during the remaining nine months of the year after my 35 article threshold, I would need to identify and publish content with at least four other outlets to maintain my current salary.
However, because of AB.5, this will be almost impossible, as outlets are now expected to hire new full-time staff writers while cutting their entire freelance budgets. As a college student who has yet to graduate, I would be unlikely to land any of these jobs as I would be competing against other applicants with years more experience, not to mention who already have their college degrees.
Indeed, many outlets have already laid off freelancers or requested they write no more than 35 articles per year. This comes at a time when the trillion-dollar U.S. gig economy is now the largest it has ever been, offering individuals more flexibility as well as the ability to work from home.
As a freelance student journalist, I can say that such an arrangement is a perfect fit for those in college who are looking to gain experience for a career in journalism and politics. The flexible schedule also allows students like me to set their writing hours around classes and homework.
With this new government-imposed restriction, fewer students like me will be able to seek these opportunities and experience these same benefits as freelancers. Because of AB-5, students like me who have relied on freelancing gigs to pay for school will make less money, even as the cost of education continues to rise with no relief in sight.
Organizations representing freelance journalists and photographers are now fighting back by suing the state, arguing that AB-5 seeks to limit their free speech rights under the U.S. Constitution. Indeed, under this law, I and other student journalists in California will write fewer stories.
For me, that could mean less accountability for colleges and universities at a time when it is most needed.
While politicians like California Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez and Gov. Gavin Newsom put extra effort into taking away our freedoms, I would remind them that freedom of speech, and of the press, play key roles in keeping our government, and its institutions, in check.
If the California legislature and the rest of the state's leaders care about protecting Californians' freedoms, which they were elected to do, they will reverse AB-5 before real students like me begin experiencing its economically and professionally devastating effects, not to mention the robbing of our most basic freedoms as Americans.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @DeTahmineh