The American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) is the nation’s largest professional organization of independent nonfiction writers. Its membership consists of freelance writers of magazine articles, trade books, and many other forms of nonfiction writing. The ASJA was founded in 1948 as the Society of Magazine Writers. Its membership consists of more than 1,100 freelance writers.
The National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) is an American professional association made up of still photographers, television videographers, editors, and students in the journalism field. It was founded in 1946. As of 2017, NPPA had total membership at just over 6,000.
Both the American Society of Journalists and Authors, Inc., and National Press Photographers Association as plaintiffs have just filed a lawsuit federal court against California, over the state’s controversial Assembly Bill 5 (AB 5), saying the law forces their independent contractors to “become employees of their clients,” whether or not this is preferable or even feasible.
“We have no choice but to go to court to protect the rights of independent writers and freelance journalists as a whole,” said Milton C. Toby, JD, president of ASJA. “The stakes are too high, and we cannot stand by as our members and our colleagues face ill-conceived and potentially career-ending legislation.”
“Under the law, a freelancer like me can write 200-plus press releases in a year for a marketing firm, and it’s no problem. But if a newspaper wants me to write a weekly column about local politics, it must put me on staff – a very unlikely prospect – or violate the law. Otherwise I am silenced,” said San Diego freelance writer Randy Dotinga, a board member and former president of ASJA.
The lawsuit asserts that the law violates the U.S. Constitution because it penalizes some freelancers while allowing other visual artists (including marketing photographers, fine artists, and graphic artists) to continue to perform as independent contractors, unencumbered by limits on the number of assignments they do.
Additionally, AB5 forbids any freelancing by visual journalists who shoot video, a provision that is challenged in the lawsuit as a content-based restriction on speech. For still photojournalists, the bill imposes a limit of 35 “submissions” or assignments per year for any single client, another content-based First Amendment violation. Similar limits are imposed on freelance writers, editors, and newspaper cartoonists.
And and an article in Forbes just announced that Vox Media, a large digital media company with an array of niche sites, abruptly terminated hundreds of freelance writers in the state of California. The company will cancel its agreements with about 200 contractors to comply with a new law that goes into effect on January 1, 2020.
The cuts target writers for the SB Nation blog, which covers sports in California. Vox intends to replace the freelance writers with roughly 20 new part-time and full-time staffers.