Letter from the editor: How can something free be stolen?

'How can something that's free be stolen?' is a question I've heard repeatedly after approximately 500 copies of The Daily Gamecock were stolen from news racks throughout campus. 

Every reader is allowed one free copy, and any extras may be purchased for $1 from the Student Media office. A disclaimer inside the paper says this to prevent any mass taking of the paper.

Let's be real, we've all taken more than one copy before. I know I sure have. What I haven't done is take the entire stack of papers from the news rack and from various news racks on campus to prevent people from seeing something in the paper with which I disagree.

The "free" things that were stolen are press and speech, not the literal free copy of the paper. 

A journalist's job includes being a "watchdog" for their community. You are free to like us, hate us, send us mean tweets and have whatever opinion of us — we are still here to serve you. 

Our feelings were not hurt. That's not why a police report was filed. Our readership numbers did not make the difference either. It's that our job is to put out information and its consumption is meant to be a democratic choice in the community. Pick up the paper, or don't. What matters is that you have the choice to read it or not. 

I'm sure the four guys who were caught on several surveillance cameras didn't think they were committing a crime. It may be fair to say they didn't realize they were censoring us either. 

To the people who called this a harmless prank: It wasn't harmless. 

To the guys who stole the papers, by taking away the people's right to information and advertisements which local businesses paid for, it isn't us who you hurt. It's the community and the very idea of free press and free speech. 

The Student Press Law Center tracks newspaper theft around the country. They recorded eight instances in 2018, making it the highest number since 2014, and it's also not the first time since then that it's happened to us at The Daily Gamecock. 

Regardless of how you feel about journalism at the moment, its importance shouldn't be forgotten. Sometimes it's hard to appreciate something when you have it. However, it's very easy to appreciate it when you see other countries that do not have a free press. 

I know, this isn't personal. The paper has been here longer than any of us and it will continue to be here long after. Trust me, we don't want to be writing about ourselves. We have a community to serve and other things that deserve our attention. But we cannot turn from the fact that this form of censorship is a threat to free press and free speech.

We will print this week and the next and we will continue to print for weeks after that, all the while publishing online. To anyone who does not like what was written about them, their friends or organization, we recommend sending a letter to the editor, sending an email, or directly messaging us on social media. But don't steal our papers to tell us how you feel. 

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