Today’s cartoon is about California’s new law, AB 5, that went into effect this week. The law is terrible for cartoonists and Cagle.com. It was intended to force Uber to make their drivers into employees, but overzealous lawmakers overextended into other areas that they didn’t understand, including journalism. Here’s my cartoon …

The law is decimating publishers throughout California. AB 5 affects us at California-based Cagle Cartoons also, because we publish Cagle.com, we’re defined as a publisher rather than just as a syndicate. We’ve dropped a number of California cartoonists from our roster and some of the changes that we were forced to make were painful. Some contributors who were paid are now paid nothing, to comply with AB 5.  Cagle.com features almost all non-California cartoonists and columnists now. (Out-of-state cartoonists and columnists are exempt from AB 5.)

Under AB 5, self-syndicating California cartoonists and columnists are screwed. The bill has a limit of 35 “contributions” per year that a writer or cartoonist can make to a publisher. The bill’s author is quoted as saying that the arbitrary number was selected so that weekly newspaper columnists could not be freelancers and must be employees.

A self-syndicating California cartoonist or columnist might have ten newspaper clients who each subscribe to the same cartoons or columns, each might pay $40/month; AB 5 mandates that this cartoonist or columnist has to be taken on as an hourly employee by each and all of her ten subscribers –of-course, no subscriber would take on a self-syndicating cartoonist or columnist as an employee.

Thirty years ago, altie weeklies were thriving and there were a bunch of self-syndicating cartoonists. It used to be that young cartoonists were advised to start their careers drawing local cartoons for their local paper for a tiny fee. Self-syndicating cartoonists were diverse, with more women and minorities and more diverse points of view than among the mainstream editorial cartoonists. AB 5 would have had a big impact years ago, snuffing out these California cartoonists –but today I fear that the self-syndicating California cartoonists have already died off; young, local cartoonists no longer exist, so there are few or no independent newspaper cartoonists that are left for AB 5 to crush. (If there are any, I’d like to hear about them.)

There’s another interesting point about AB 5 and editorial cartoonists. Some years ago it was conventional wisdom that, “in the future,” editorial cartoons would be animated. The big editorial cartooning awards wanted to be seen as forward-thinking so they selected award winners who did animated cartoons and many award-hungry editorial cartoonists spent a lot of time learning animation techniques. With very few exceptions, animation never caught on in the editorial cartooning business. The Web never developed a culture of paying for content and the remaining political cartoonists have been clinging to the sinking ship of print. AB 5 expressly bans freelance cartoonists from doing even one animation. Animated editorial cartoons can only be done by employees in California. California Democrats slammed the door on our future that never happened.

Legislators who supported AB 5 argue that it is good for journalists and cartoonists, because they need better jobs that get employee benefits. What is actually happening is that the journalists simply don’t get hired and they lose their freelance gigs; the journalism doesn’t get done and the publishers are shrinking and suffering even more. At Cagle Cartoons, we can’t afford to hire any cartoonists or columnists as employees, and none of them would want to suffer the restrictions of being our employees. The idea that publishers, including little Web sites, would hire cartoonists as employees now is whimsical nonsense from another era. In California, the “Gig Economy” is now the “can’t get a gig” economy.

It is ironic that we read so much about President Trump attacking journalism, but the truly effective attacks on journalism come from liberal Democrats in Sacramento.

Another new California law that is costly and risky for us is the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). This new, over-reaching, sloppy law is another bludgeon in my state’s war on journalism. The law is intended to protect consumers by affecting only large companies that trade in consumer information which should be confidential –but it has the added effect of crushing little journalism sites like Cagle.com.  Read my post about CCPA!.


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