New Jersey's newspapers — many of them more than a century old — have faced strong headwinds in the 21st century. Changes in readers' habits, technological evolutions and declines in traditional revenue streams like classified advertising have all challenged our business and have impacted the journalism we produce. Still, though, the important work of covering the Garden State's communities goes on, and so do we.
Now, though, news organizations like ours — the USA TODAY Network New Jersey, which publishes The Record, the Herald News, the Asbury Park Press, the Courier-Post, the Daily Record, the Daily Journal, the Burlington County Times the New Jersey Herald, the Courier News and the Home News Tribune — are facing another hurdle as we work to reach our customers.
As Richard Vezza, the recently retired editor and publisher of The Star-Ledger wrote in an op-ed published by our network and others this week, New Jersey newspapers "face a crisis that threatens the existence of some publications and substantial job losses at those newspapers that manage to survive." Vezza is not exaggerating. The independent contractors we rely on to handle delivery of print editions of our publications to our readers' homes and to stores are being targeted by the New Jersey Department of Labor, which is pressuring their employers — two companies used by most of the state's newspapers — to make the carriers employees. The costs of doing so would be passed on to news organizations like ours — to the tune of as much as a 128% increase.
How would our business handle these increased costs? It's likely that print readers would see even more price increases. And it's likely that some newspapers would reduce print delivery and that some people in our newsrooms, printing plants and delivery operations would be laid off.
The New Jersey Press Association, a trade group that the USA TODAY Network news organizations are proud members of, estimates that should the state plan to convert contractors into employees come to pass, we would see newspapers fold and shutter.
That's not tolerable for our business. Nor is it tolerable for our readers, who could risk losing some of their relied-on print editions if the state's plans come to fruition.
What can you do?
You can contact your members of the state Legislature via https://www.njleg.state.nj.us/. You can contact Gov. Phil Murphy. You can contact state Senate President Nicholas Scutari and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin. The power brokers in Trenton need to hear your voice — they need to hear that you support democracy, the free flow of information and the important journalism our staffs work tirelessly to produce in your service.
In turn, we hope members of the Legislature will act. Our independent contractors require legislative protections that shield their status. Across the Hudson, New York recently passed a state law creating such protections — on a permanent basis. California, meanwhile, has enacted legislation extending protections for independent contractors by five years. There is precedent — and the Legislature should act.
Healthy democracies are fueled by the quality of information consumed by the public. The framers of the United States Constitution deeply understood that fact and believed in the power of the press to hold elected officials accountable. Our news organizations, already challenged by volatile market forces, cannot abide new challenges that would prevent the regular delivery of our products.
Governor Murphy, we appeal to you directly: Please act to preserve our business. Please act to preserve the lifeblood of New Jersey's democracy. Please act to sustain our work to inform New Jersey's citizens.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: NJ newspapers: Gov. Murphy, please preserve independent contractors