An Op-Ed by By Regina Brown Wilson – California Black Media
Last week, I wrote an appeal to Governor Newsom, Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez and our state legislators in Sacramento, urging them to not reclassify the contract couriers who deliver our African American-owned newspapers as employees.
But if AB 5 passes, it would not only hurt the Black Press. It would make business nearly impossible for the more than 100 Latinx, Asian-American, Native-American and other small niche independent papers as well.
Across California, our ethnic media outlets are the lifeline to truthful and important information for over 80 percent of all minority groups combined. That is close to one-half of all Californians.
Considering the great responsibility our ethnic media publications have in helping to strengthen our democracy here in California, we are calling on the leaders we’ve elected to represent and protect all of our interests to search their hearts, look beyond blind spots, step in, and do the one thing that will prevent Assembly Bill 5 from putting our ethnic media publications in California out of business.
The bill Assemblymember Gonzalez (D-San Diego) is proposing intends to bring definition to our Supreme Court’s Dynamex decision and defend the rights of working Californians.
But in our push to create a more equitable California for all, we must not lose sight of the specific needs and priorities of our most vulnerable communities, which happen to be the majority of our readers. Our best intentions may sometimes harm some Californians while uplifting others. We must always be as cautious and fair as we are forceful and deliberate in approaching our most challenging problems.
Shouldn’t AB 5 be helping to narrow the immense wealth gap that exists in the richest state of the nation? The disparity between the ultra-rich and the almost 20 million people in California who live below the poverty line – or who fight to hover just above it – is growing. In Los Angeles and Orange counties, for example, the liquid assets (property that can be quickly converted to cash) for the average White family was $110,000 in 2014. For Black families it was only $200 and $0 for Mexican families, according to the California Budget and Policy Center. For non-Mexican Latinx families it was $7, and $500 for Vietnamese families.
For ethnic media newspaper publishers surviving in an industry the emergence of the internet has almost put on life support, Assembly Bill 5 would do the exact opposite of what Gonzalez wants it to achieve. She might as well just pull the plug on our ethnic media publications.
Although our newspapers reach millions of Californians of all races, most of our operations are still family-owned businesses. We are small shops with multi-tasking staff members who struggle to attract advertising, grind to meet deadlines and tighten belts to remain profitable. Very few of our ethnic media publishers would be able to afford to offer full-time jobs with benefits to the part-time delivery people who work, on average, about four hours on the days our newspapers are published. A large percentage of our papers are weeklies.
My dad, Hardy Brown, former publisher of Black Voice News in Riverside, remembers a time when he had to gather the news stories, type them, take the copy to the printer and then deliver the published papers by himself throughout the Inland Empire at night. He would drop them off at churches on Sunday morning, too, because he could not afford to pay a courier. AB 5 would take our ethnic media newspapers back to those difficult days.
Many of readers – aging adults, new immigrants, non-English speakers, people who speak English as a second language, or just Californians seeking an alternative take on news or stories they would not find in the mainstream media – rely heavily on our newspapers for vital information. At a time when our social media feeds are filled with misinformation, and a variety of bad actors use the internet to spread falsehoods and smear others, the critical role trustworthy news sources play can not be overstated.
We’ve done the math. Having to hire couriers as full-time employees would force us to limit our circulation areas or raise the prices of our papers. Either option would hurt our revenue so bad, it would no longer make sense to stay in business.
We all know the backbone of our democracy is a free and independent press providing truthful, objective and balanced information critical to the lives, health and overall wellbeing of all our citizens.
New immigrants as well as Americans of all backgrounds read ethnic media publications even though mainstream newspapers exist. Those national or citywide papers often overlook or under-report very important issues critical to the lives of African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanic Americans and Native Americans. Our papers bring unique perspectives to the news, pointing out how news stories may affect minority groups differently. We expand the base of knowledge on every topic we cover and bring untold stories to the historical record. Some of us publish in languages other than English. And all of us write in familiar and relatable voices, and from points of view, that resonate with our readers.
In California, the cost to live in our coastal cities has become unaffordable for a large percentage of our readers. More and more, we see our families migrating to distant suburbs or inland cities and towns east of Los Angeles, the Bay Area, the Central Coast and San Diego. While many of our papers are still located in historic minority neighborhoods near or our around those major metropolitan areas, our drop-off points have become more far-flung and the radius of our circulation areas have dramatically increased. Now, more so than ever before, the role of our contract delivery drivers is an essential aspect of our businesses.
We understand the importance of passing AB 5 to introduce guidelines for implementing the Dynamex decision. But we also need your intervention to protect the legacy and livelihood of our publications as we live up to the responsibility upon us that we never take lightly: That is to strengthen and maintain freedom and democracy in our state and across our country.
In the words of educator and journalist Ida B. Wells, “The people must know before they can act and there is no educator like the press.”