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California Law Threatens Freelance Journalists

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A new California law targeting the “gig economy” goes into effect in January 2020. Many freelance journalists are worried that it may end their careers.  The law was intended to help secure journalism jobs. But some freelance journalists fear they will be losing their livelihoods. This law may also impact content marketing since so much of it relies on freelance journalism.

Screenshot of a tweet by a freelance journalist

One person tweeted: “It doesn’t matter what profession it’s aimed at. The effects will be devastating for freelance writers in CA, and you should listen to them instead of ruining their livelihoods.”

Exemptions for Freelance Journalists?

According to the Hollywood Reporter and tweets on Twitter, many freelancers are having a meltdown over this law.

“…the exemption for freelance journalists …contains what some say is a potentially career-ending requirement for a writer to remain a freelancer: If a freelance journalist writes for a magazine, newspaper or other entity whose central mission is to disseminate the news, the law says, that journalist is capped at writing 35 “submissions” per year per “putative employer.” “

Miscommunication May Have Led to Freelance Cap of 35 Articles

A Twitter discussion between the laws author, Assembly Woman Lorena S. Gonzalez (@LorenaSGonzalez) and Randy Dotinga (@rdotinga), of the American Society of Journalists & Authors, who attended feedback meetings when the law was being crafted highlighted how both sides, freelancers and legislators, had not fully communicated.

California Assemblywoman Lorena S. Gonzalez tweeted:

“We agreed to make it 35 & broaden the language on submissions. I left a meeting w/ people agreeing. I know there were subsequent emails w/staff. You weren’t involved with that? Not to redirect all the very kind & effective comments about how stupid I am, just simply stating fact.”

To which Randy responded:

“I checked our notes: The bill had submission cap at 25. We met with you and discussed submission cap and bill language. 35 didn’t come up. I asked if you could do a cap of 52 if our coalition would stand down and support the bill. You said no…

…then 1 of your staff members emailed me about revised language with 35 cap, among other things. Reply: “We would, of course, prefer to see a higher cap, but we do appreciate that it has risen to 35.” I wanted to be friendly and figured the ship had sailed on the 35 cap”

Assembly woman Gonzalez answered:

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“We discussed a 35 cap and then talked at length about broadening the definition of submission. We did both in the language.I was actually in that meeting with you.”

Randy contradicted her assertion:

“We don’t recall 35 coming up at our meeting, and it’s not in our notes… That being said, I could be wrong or we could have miscommunicated.”

Freelancers are Discussing on Twitter

According to Randy Dotinga (of the American Society of Journalists & Authors), he tweeted that there are exemptions.

“There is a business to business exemption in the law with several criteria that you must meet. But even if you meet the criteria, you may still be blacklisted if your client doesn’t want to deal with figuring all this out. It is on them to follow the law.”

According to Randy, the law only affects writers in California.  He also tweeted that this law does not affect marketers. It only targets journalists.

“And marketers! I can write hundreds of press releases on a freelance basis and it’s no problem. But I must be put on staff or sacked if I write 36 freelance columns about the homeless…”

He also tweeted:

“We should go back to Borello. Journalists are protected by the First Amendment and the state constitution. Marketing writers have no limitation on their work as freelancers per #AB5, yet journalists who write do. Does that kind of targeting seem constitutional to you?”

This is what the law says:

“The bill would exempt specified occupations from the application of Dynamex, and would instead provide that these occupations are governed by Borello.

These exempt occupations would include, among others, licensed insurance agents, certain licensed health care professionals, registered securities broker-dealers or investment advisers, direct sales salespersons, real estate licensees, commercial fishermen, workers providing licensed barber or cosmetology services, and others performing work under a contract for professional services, with another business entity, or pursuant to a subcontract in the construction industry.

Freelance writer Kassy Dillon tweeted:

“California is capping freelance writer articles at 35 a year. I could pass that in a month. It’s absolutely ridiculous that the government here wants to hurt people who choose to freelance and have a more flexible career.”

She also tweeted how this impacts her as a full time student:

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Screenshot of a tweet about freelance journalism

The author of the California law tweeted that she was open to working to improve the law. She cautioned that any changes won’t be added before the law goes into effect.

“I will continue to work with freelancers, the industry & unions that represent writers to see if there are further changes that should be made, especially for digital quick jobs. But, this won’t get resolved just on twitter. And it can’t happen before January 7…”

Nevertheless, many are feeling anxiety about this new law. One freelance journalist tweeted:

“Every single freelancer writer I know in CA is more terrified of this than we were of Trump’s tax bill, which was awful for us. Every non CA freelance writer I know is incredibly grateful they don’t live here and aren’t subject to this…”

Impact of California Law on Freelance Journalism

There seems to be a lack of clarity at this point in time.

On the one hand, as seen in the tweet by Randy Dotinga cited above, there is the interpretation that certain business types are excluded.

Screenshot of a tweet by Randy Dotinga claiming there are exemptions to California freelance law

That would seem to be like outsourcing work to a temp staffing company. Can a journalistic enterprise outsource their journalists? As Randy observes, the seemingly multiple ambiguities in the laws may force companies to stop hiring freelancers.

Read the text of the law here:
AB 5, Gonzalez. Worker Status: Employees and Independent Contractors

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Google December Product Reviews Update Affects More Than English Language Sites? via @sejournal, @martinibuster

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Google’s Product Reviews update was announced to be rolling out to the English language. No mention was made as to if or when it would roll out to other languages. Mueller answered a question as to whether it is rolling out to other languages.

Google December 2021 Product Reviews Update

On December 1, 2021, Google announced on Twitter that a Product Review update would be rolling out that would focus on English language web pages.

The focus of the update was for improving the quality of reviews shown in Google search, specifically targeting review sites.

A Googler tweeted a description of the kinds of sites that would be targeted for demotion in the search rankings:

“Mainly relevant to sites that post articles reviewing products.

Think of sites like “best TVs under $200″.com.

Goal is to improve the quality and usefulness of reviews we show users.”

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Google also published a blog post with more guidance on the product review update that introduced two new best practices that Google’s algorithm would be looking for.

The first best practice was a requirement of evidence that a product was actually handled and reviewed.

The second best practice was to provide links to more than one place that a user could purchase the product.

The Twitter announcement stated that it was rolling out to English language websites. The blog post did not mention what languages it was rolling out to nor did the blog post specify that the product review update was limited to the English language.

Google’s Mueller Thinking About Product Reviews Update

Screenshot of Google's John Mueller trying to recall if December Product Review Update affects more than the English language

Screenshot of Google's John Mueller trying to recall if December Product Review Update affects more than the English language

Product Review Update Targets More Languages?

The person asking the question was rightly under the impression that the product review update only affected English language search results.

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But he asserted that he was seeing search volatility in the German language that appears to be related to Google’s December 2021 Product Review Update.

This is his question:

“I was seeing some movements in German search as well.

So I was wondering if there could also be an effect on websites in other languages by this product reviews update… because we had lots of movement and volatility in the last weeks.

…My question is, is it possible that the product reviews update affects other sites as well?”

John Mueller answered:

“I don’t know… like other languages?

My assumption was this was global and and across all languages.

But I don’t know what we announced in the blog post specifically.

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But usually we try to push the engineering team to make a decision on that so that we can document it properly in the blog post.

I don’t know if that happened with the product reviews update. I don’t recall the complete blog post.

But it’s… from my point of view it seems like something that we could be doing in multiple languages and wouldn’t be tied to English.

And even if it were English initially, it feels like something that is relevant across the board, and we should try to find ways to roll that out to other languages over time as well.

So I’m not particularly surprised that you see changes in Germany.

But I also don’t know what we actually announced with regards to the locations and languages that are involved.”

Does Product Reviews Update Affect More Languages?

While the tweeted announcement specified that the product reviews update was limited to the English language the official blog post did not mention any such limitations.

Google’s John Mueller offered his opinion that the product reviews update is something that Google could do in multiple languages.

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One must wonder if the tweet was meant to communicate that the update was rolling out first in English and subsequently to other languages.

It’s unclear if the product reviews update was rolled out globally to more languages. Hopefully Google will clarify this soon.

Citations

Google Blog Post About Product Reviews Update

Product reviews update and your site

Google’s New Product Reviews Guidelines

Write high quality product reviews

John Mueller Discusses If Product Reviews Update Is Global

Watch Mueller answer the question at the 14:00 Minute Mark

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