Asm. Buffy Wicks' Amended AB886: A Step Forward for Local News in California

The revised legislation prioritizes strengthening community news, yet key issues must be resolved to secure sustainable support for local publishers.

Assembly Member Wicks and the sponsors of the legislation have clearly heard many of the concerns of a wide variety of publishers and community leaders. The new version of AB886 is vastly improved. Indeed, a system that distributed funds in the way imagined through this bill could dramatically improve coverage of California’s communities.   

On the other hand, there are still problems with the legislation, which we lay out below.

All in all, the amendments represent great progress and we hope that this legislative process continues to move forward. Whether it’s using this bill as the vehicle, or SB 1327 (which Rebuild Local News supports), or some other approach, it’s crucial that California policymakers address the severe and accelerating local news crisis affecting publishers, workers and communities across the state.



The new version of the legislation would:

1) Distribute proceeds on the basis of journalistic headcount rather than traffic or the number of links posted on an internet platform. This is a hugely important change that dramatically improves the likelihood that the bill will strengthen community journalism. By uncoupling benefits from clicks or impressions, the revised AB 886 reverses the incentives for clickbait that existed in earlier versions of the bill.  Instead, it encourages and rewards investment in journalism jobs, and, therefore, reporting. It also recognizes the value of smaller news organizations that spend a disproportionate amount of their budgets on reporting.

2) Distribute proceeds to news organizations employing journalists whose “primary” job is making content for California. The previous version would have provided much of the benefits to national media. This version attempts to solve that problem by focusing the benefits on outlets that hire reporters who primarily cover California communities. That’s as it should be. The crisis is in local news. Public policies should focus on supporting those outlets.

3) Provide value to newsrooms that also pay freelancers and contractors for content.  Many smaller publishers, including many of those covering communities of color, have few full-time employees and rely heavily on freelance or part-time work as they scale their operations. This approach would provide some support for them, while still incentivizing the hiring of full-time staff.

All three of these steps represent major improvements in the legislation.



The legislation still has some shortcomings and, unless these are addressed, the great progress just mentioned could be for naught. First, regardless of how good the distribution criteria are, Google and Meta could exclude news links from their services altogether, eliminating the possibility of payouts to local news outlets. Meta has already removed news links from its platform in Canada and Google “tested” limiting news in search for California residents earlier this year. Such a move would deprive local publishers of traffic (and revenue) and residents of vital information.

The bill attempts to deal with this problem by prohibiting retaliation. But some stakeholders fear that may amount to unconstitutional forced speech. Even if the state eventually wins that legal argument, California publishers could lose traffic, and subsequent revenue, in the meantime. Local newsrooms could end up losing traffic right away while they wait years for potential compensatory payments. On the other hand, if an anti-retaliation provision did force the inclusion of news links, it would not stop Google from eliminating the Google News Initiative not only in California, but across the country, as it has also threatened to do. Finally, this approach, even without legal challenges, would most likely extract financial support only from Google, since Meta has proven itself willing to pull news links from its platform, and Amazon is not included in this approach. It would be more sustainable and fair if a broader group of major technology companies helped pay for the revival of local news (as is done in SB 1327).

So, we urge lawmakers to address these issues. While big technology companies offer tremendous value to society, it is fair to ask them to contribute to organizations that counter some of the collateral damage that they also cause.  That could involve borrowing elements of SB1327 or through a re-imagined arbitration process or a combination. 



Clarify the localism provision. In order to deal with Constitutional concerns, lawmakers did not want to require that funds go explicitly to news organizations based in California. Instead, the revised bill provides funds to newsrooms based on the number of journalists employed “for the primary purpose of producing content for a California audience.” The wording includes a potential loophole for some particularly creative national media organizations. It’s conceivable that a national publisher like, say, People magazine, could say “our primary purpose is to produce content and it is for the California audience (along with many other audiences).” This can probably be mitigated if lawmakers publicly declare that their legislative intent is to target funds toward news organizations that focus on covering California communities. Another possibility would be to add a second “primarily” so the sentence would read, “for the primary purpose of producing content primarily for a California audience.”

Strengthen the anti-pink-slime provisions. In the new version, a news organization that has 25% of its content dedicated to local, national or international news would be eligible. It’s possible that many “pink slime” sites would qualify. Lawmakers should consider changing that provision to 50% of its content being dedicated to local matters. In addition, the bill should add some of the other anti-pink-slime provisions that are in SB1327 including:

    • Exclusion of news organizations that are controlled by political action committees or 501c4 organization
    • Exclusion of news organizations that don’t have at least one full-time local reporter living in California, which could include an owner or operator, as long as they contribute to the news outlet’s journalism


This statement represents the views of Steve Waldman, and has not been officially endorsed by the steering committee of the national Rebuild Local News Coalition.