Editorial: (Don’t) stop the presses

The freedom of expression is paramount – and too often taken for granted

Editorial Staff

This past weekend, six members of the Old Gold & Black editorial board traveled to our nation’s capital to celebrate the free press, college journalism and to hear new perspectives on how to perform the responsibility we take so very dearly — to cover the campus like the magnolias.

At MediaFest 22, we heard from legendary journalists such as John Quiñones, Bill Whitaker, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Their message to us was clear: dig deeper and make sure the communities you hold dear are informed. We are committed to doing both.

We would be remiss, however, after spending a weekend feting the free press, not to comment on a few concerning trends we see developing in terms of free expression both abroad and at home.

This week, the Old Gold & Black’s front-page story recounts the efforts of Chinese international students and Chinese-American students to protest Xi Jinping’s government in China. A life article this week tells a similar story in the first person. There is a reason that most of the students and sources quoted in the front-page article, as well as the author of the life article, chose to remain anonymous. While we applaud the courage these students (and professor) took in speaking their truth to the Old Gold & Black, we condemn in the strongest possible terms the media surveillance and restriction of free expression that led to their decision to remain anonymous. 

It is our profound wish that everyone, everywhere who wishes to do the work of good journalism is able to do so anywhere.

But let us be clear: restrictions on free expression do not begin, nor do they end in China. Last semester, in Texas, the administration of Texas A&M shuttered its school newspaper’s print edition — a move, as recent reporting reveals, that was inspired by a shady group of alumni and influencers. The Texas A&M Battalion did not back down and continued printing its newspaper. For its efforts throughout this ordeal, the Battalion was awarded the Student Press Freedom Award from the Student Press Law Center last Friday. 

The Battalion’s story is a reminder that the right to a free press that we often take for granted can be taken away. According to Reporters Without Borders, the United States now ranks 42nd of 180 countries in terms of press freedom, indicating a problematic climate for journalists. One of the indicators of an unsafe climate — as Reporters Without Borders recognizes — is harassment, and yes, we at the Old Gold & Black have faced harassment for reporting the news. Defending press freedom is important because its abridgment can happen anywhere at any time. 

Harassment aside, we at the Old Gold & Black recognize that when we proclaim the virtues of a free press, we do so from a position of privilege. Although we are not economically independent from Wake Forest, we have full editorial independence, due to an administration that may not always see eye to eye with us but respects the importance of a campus newspaper that can report without fear. It is that freedom which has allowed us to deliver award-winning coverage on topics such as the Weaver Fire, social justice, mental health and COVID-19. Today and every day, we recommit to delivering the best possible coverage of this campus and community that we can muster. It is our profound wish that everyone, everywhere who wishes to do the work of good journalism is able to do so anywhere.

So here’s to a free press, here’s to seeking truth and reporting it, here’s to minimizing harm, here’s to being accountable and transparent, here’s to acting independently — and here’s to covering the campus like the magnolias.