This year, Free Speech Week is Oct. 16-22. The purpose of this weeklong event is to celebrate and raise awareness of the importance of free speech and free press, according to News/Media Alliance. We at The Post acknowledge the significance of free speech as journalists, as our lives would be drastically different without our First Amendment protections.
As Walter Cronkite once said, “Freedom of the press is not just important to democracy, it is democracy.” It is the responsibility of journalists to hold the government accountable by serving as watchdogs by utilizing their right to investigate the officials elected to serve their constituents’ best interests. The First Amendment ensures the government will not interfere with journalists and their mission to share the truth.
Shield laws allow journalists to protect themselves and their sources by giving them the ability to legally refuse to reveal the names of their sources. There is no federal shield law, but all states–except for Wyoming–have statewide shield laws. As of May 2023, Hawaii is the most recent state to establish a shield law by reinstating its previous one. Many journalists are pushing for a federal shield law; however, members of Congress have been attempting to pass such a law for half a century without avail.
While we have protections in the U.S., free speech and the free press are at risk worldwide. There is a present threat for journalists—especially those reporting on sensitive, complex topics—of being harmed or killed on the job. This is even more true for female-identifying journalists, who are more frequently harassed, stalked, doxxed and threatened.
In addition to serving as a government watchdog, free speech allows for “a vibrant marketplace of ideas, a vehicle for ordinary citizens to express themselves and gain exposure to a wide range of information and opinions,” according to the ACLU.
This also applies to the journalism industry, as not every single journalist is a political reporter. Many journalists’ passions lie elsewhere, whether it's feature writing or working on a sports beat. There are endless stories that need to be told that are just as important as what the government is doing. There is so much going on today, and it’s up to journalists to provide the public with digestible yet informative content.
To protect yourself as a journalist—and those around you who are journalists—it’s crucial to be educated on the topic of free speech. Democracy hinges on this right and therefore makes it important for society as a whole to commit to protecting free speech.
This Free Speech Week, The Post encourages you to stay alert of threats against the First Amendment and take some time out of your day to educate yourself on the importance of journalism in everyday life. Do this by not only glancing at headlines on social media but actually watching and reading the news every day. Glancing at quick excerpts about what is going on in the world can only get you so far.
You can also make a difference by simply paying attention to local journalism. The reporters working at your town’s newspaper are probably churning out excellent work for way less money than they deserve, but do it because they are passionate about serving the public. Staying informed not only shows you care about your community, but also the people whose livelihoods revolve around informing you. In a world where people respond to the idea of journalism with a quip about how the industry is dying, do your part to lift up the hard-working reporters who uphold your First Amendment rights and educate yourself with the work they publish daily.
Editorials represent the majority opinion of The Post's executive editors: Editor-in-Chief Katie Millard, Managing Editor Emma Erion, Digital Director Anastasia Carter and Equity Director Alesha Davis. Post editorials are independent of the publication's news coverage.