Without Changes, AB 5 Will Harm Freelance Journalists

The San Diego Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SD-SPJ) would like to update its members on a piece of legislation that could impact the careers of freelance journalists in the state.

For the last few months, SD-SPJ has been keeping an eye on AB 5, legislation authored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego. AB 5 seeks to codify into law a recent state Supreme Court ruling about how workers are classified. 

The ruling created a three-pronged “test” for differentiating between independent contractors and employees for purposes of certain California wage laws. The second prong, which has raised concern among freelance journalists, columnists, photojournalists, and other content creators states that a worker will be considered an employee if he or she performs work that is within the usual course of the hiring entity’s business. The Supreme Court ruling essentially made it impossible for a newspaper to use freelancers to produce content and, as a result, some media companies have severed ties with California freelancers.

While we agree that employers need clarity on how to classify their workers, SD-SPJ and other media organizations have asked Gonzalez to consider adding exemptions to the bill that will allow California-based freelancers to continue to work and media companies to continue to hire them. As introduced, the bill would have required newsrooms to make freelance writers part-time employees — something editors will tell you is easier said than done for reasons that have nothing to do with the worker exploitation this bill seeks to address.

Gonzalez has said she’s open to amending the bill and has been taking input from a number of organizations. But the latest amendment by the Senate’s Labor, Public Employment and Retirement Committee is, in our opinion, not workable. The provision, added Wednesday, would limit to 25 the number of “submissions” a freelancer can produce annually for a client. This cap raises a number of concerns for us including how “submission” is defined. What about a photographer who shoots dozens of photos for one assignment? What about freelancers who write a weekly column? Additionally, even if ambiguities in the term “submission” could be resolved, we believe that 25 submissions per year per client is too low.

The California Newspaper Association came up with a sensible proposal that we thought fairly addressed concerns on both sides. You can read the proposal here.

Freelancers play a vital role in adding diverse voices, experiences, and viewpoints to published platforms of all sorts. We appreciate Gonzalez’s concern that workers not be exploited, but we fear that newsrooms and other outlets will simply cut freelancers rather than hire them as part-time employees or deal with cumbersome, vague rules. We hope that as AB 5 moves towards a final Senate vote, Gonzalez and other state lawmakers will sit down with journalists and come up with a solution.

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Congrats to our board election winners!

Thank you to all of our members who cast ballots in our most recent board election. Please join us in congratulating incoming board members Arthur Santana and Lauren J. Mapp, and returning board members Bianca BrunoMatthew Halgren,  Lisa Halverstadt  and Elizabeth Marie Himchak. You can read a bit more about Lauren and Arthur below.

And don’t forget our banquet in three weeks!

SPJ San Diego is having its annual banquet on July 17Tickets are still available for purchase here. Join us in celebrating our journalist of the year, Jean Guerrero, and all of our award winners!

Lauren J. Mapp


Lauren J. Mapp is a recent graduate from the San Diego State University School of Journalism and Media Studies. She is currently an intern at inewsource, a contributing editor at Times of San Diego and a freelance reporter for North Coast Current. Over the years, Mapp has covered a variety of topics from public transportation and education to sustainability and the local food scene in San Diego. She previously wrote for The Daily Aztec at SDSU and was the editor in chief of The Mesa Press. Mapp was also a staff writer at Indian Time and The People’s Voice on the Akwesasne Kanien’kehá ka Mohawk Reservation before moving to San Diego in 2005. During her time as an SPJ San Diego board member, Mapp aims to increase newsroom diversity and work to help increase equitable coverage of underrepresented communities.

Arthur Santana


Arthur Santana is an associate professor of journalism at San Diego State University. Prior to joining SDSU in 2015, he was a journalism professor at the University of Houston. For the past 11 years, he has taught and researched journalism. His published research focuses on participatory media, user-generated content and the intersection of journalism, politics and social media. Prior to joining academia, Arthur was a reporter and editor for 14 years, including at the San Antonio Express-News, The Seattle Times and The Washington Post. He’s been the recipient of journalism awards from the Washington, D.C. Press Association, the Society of Professional Journalists and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. At the Post, he was part of a team of reporters who were nominated for the 2002 Pulitzer Prize in Public Service. In 1993, Arthur earned a B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin. He received an M.S. in 1996 from Columbia University, and in 2012, he earned a Ph.D. from the University of Oregon. In the fall, Arthur will begin this third year as SPJ advisor to the SDSU SPJ chapter.

Jean Guerrero, our 2019 Journalist of the Year

The San Diego Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is proud to announce our 2019 Journalist of the Year: Jean Guerrero, author and KPBS investigative reporter covering border and immigration.

You name a border story over the past year and Guerrero covered it with persistence and compassion. When the Trump administration announced it would be sending some asylum seekers back to Mexico to wait for their cases to reach a judge, Guerrero was there. When a caravan of Central American migrants arrived in Tijuana seeking to enter the United States, Guerrero was there.

And when the Trump administration began separating migrant parents from their children at the border, Guerrero covered that story, too.

In fact, Guerrero’s first story on family separations at the border came many months before the issue made national headlines. And the people in her stories have names — like Jose Demar Fuentes, an asylum seeker from El Salvador whose one-year-old son, Mateo, was taken from him and sent to a shelter in Texas nearly 1,500 miles away. Jean gave a face to the policy of family separation, earning enough trust from the family to interview the mother, Olivia Caceres, on camera after she got her son Mateo back.

Guerrero’s reporting was frequently featured in national media. Her depth of understanding of the border sets her apart from many of the national reporters who have been parachuted in.

And as if her contributions to our understanding of the U.S.-Mexico border weren’t great enough, last year, Guerrero came out with her own personal story of the border. Crux: A Cross-Border Memoir, tells the moving story of her own family’s history of crossing borders, both physical and metaphysical.

Please join us in celebrating Jean Guerrero and all of this year’s award winners at our annual banquet on July 17 at the Kona Kai Resort and Spa. Click here to see a full list of award winners and purchase tickets.

College Newspapers Entitled to Full Press Freedoms

The board of the San Diego Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists is concerned by the recent actions of Southwestern College administrators undermining the press freedoms of the student-run newspaper, The Southwestern College Sun.

In May, two Sun staff members attended a student election board meeting, which was open to the public, and recorded video of the meeting. After The Sun reported on the meeting, the school’s Title IX investigator requested the video, invoking the California Public Records Act.

The Sun declined to release the video. In a letter to the newspaper’s staff, Gloria Chavez, the college’s director of employee relations and Title IX, claimed that the paper’s refusal to release the video was a “subversion of the public’s right to access,” which, she said, “appears to directly violate one of the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics.”

The letter does not say which provision of the SPJ Code of Ethics Chavez believes The Sun violated. Based on our knowledge of the situation, The Sun has not committed any violation of the SPJ Code of Ethics. Protecting unpublished material, which can be done for a variety of important reasons, is a basic tenet of journalism that we urge the school to honor in preparing its students for careers in the field.