San Diego SPJ: Intimidation of Journalists at the Border Needs to Stop

Five American journalists have sued the U.S. government, alleging that authorities violated their First Amendment rights by inspecting their cameras and notebooks and questioning them extensively about their coverage of last year’s migrant caravan. Their detailed accounts, on pages 15-34 of a complaint filed Nov. 20 by the ACLU, are alarming and should be read by any journalist who leaves or enters the United States.

It is also alarming that the detained journalists were all freelancers, who may have been seen as easier targets for harassment.

We understand the caravan was a significant challenge for law enforcement, but harassing journalists for confidential information as a condition to return home is not how to address it. The actions described in the lawsuit amount to a direct attack on journalists’ ability to do their jobs and, if not addressed and corrected, could have a chilling effect.

The U.S. government has yet to publicly address its actions in any meaningful way. Those actions may never have come to light if KNSD, the NBC station in San Diego, hadn’t received records from a government whistleblower showing the names and photographs of 59 people that the agency linked to the caravan. Ten were identified as journalists.

The San Diego Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists applauds the ACLU for taking on this issue and asks the public for its support in ensuring this intimidating behavior stops. Journalists are not informants or intelligence agents for the U.S. government. These tactics are common in dictatorial regimes but have no place in a healthy democracy.

San Diego SPJ Statement on AB 5

The San Diego Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists wants to thank Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez for her willingness to listen to our concerns, and those of other freelance journalists, regarding AB 5.

We cannot predict exactly how employers, or the courts, will interpret AB 5 after it goes into effect next year, and many of our members remain concerned over what this bill will mean for them. The final version allows a hiring entity to accept up to 35 submissions per year from a particular freelance contributor. If the hiring entity would like additional content, it must classify the contributor as an employee. Assemblymember Gonzalez agreed to raise this cap from 25, and amended the bill to clarify what constitutes a “submission.”

A submission is: “one or more items or forms of content by a freelance journalist, editor or cartoonist that: (I) pertains to a specific event or topic; (II) is provided for in a contract that defines the scope of the work; (III) is accepted by the publication or company and published or posted for sale.” The bill also states: “Items of content produced on a recurring basis related to a general topic shall be considered separate submissions.”

For freelance still photographers and photojournalists, a submission is: “one or more items or forms of content … that: (I) pertains to a specific event or specific subject; (II) is provided for in a contract that defines the scope of the work; and (III) is accepted by and licensed to the publication or stock photography company and published or posted. Nothing in this section shall prevent a photographer or artist from displaying their work product for sale.”

These are improvements from the bill’s original language, brought about through the work of a coalition of 20 trade organizations that included SD-SPJ. We remain hopeful that as AB 5 is implemented, freelance journalists and photographers will continue to be able to earn a living in California and news organizations will value their work with fair treatment and compensation.

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.

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.