Student newspapers across the country continue to fall victim to theft





Signs of a new school year: the leaves have turned, footballs fill the air and newspaper thieves and America’s college campuses are back in action.

In the first reported newspaper theft of the 1996-97 academic school year, over 2,000 copies of the Northern Essex Community College Observer were stolen Sept. 20. The incident occurred just after 8 a.m., according to the paper’s adviser, Joseph Le Blanc. While walking across the Haverhill school’s campus, the adviser said he saw two female students in the process of removing the papers from a distribution point and placing them in white plastic bags.

According to Le Blanc, when he asked the students about their actions, they ignored him and continued to remove the papers. They told Le Blanc that taking the newspapers was their form of protest over an article in the Observer that criticized welfare recipients.

Campus security was called to the scene and the students were asked to stop taking the papers. The students agreed, saying they would return the stolen papers. But According to Le Blanc, only two bags containing about 500 copies were placed outside the newspaper’s offices.

A few days later, students at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston received an unexpected surprise when they went to pick up their copies of the Daily Eastern News student newspaper.

According to editor Travis Spencer, about 8,000 of the paper’s 9,100 total press run disappeared from drop-off points around campus on Sept. 24 between 8 and 8:50 a.m. The News reprinted 4,000 copies and distributed them across campus later in the day.

The reason for the theft, as well as possible suspects, remains unclear for students and faculty. Spencer, who spoke to the university judicial board about the thefts, said he wanted the paper to get back the money it had lost. The paper’s publisher, John David Reed, said those responsible should be caught.

“If you don’t like someone, you don’t shoot them, if you don’t like what a person writes, you don’t steal newspapers,” said Reed.

At Linfield College in McMinville, Ore., about 500 copies of the student paper, the Linfield Review, were found in a garbage bin on Sept. 27. The theft occurred soon after the papers had been distributed on the eve of parents weekend at the college. The issue contained stories on the arrest of a student for making fake identification cards.

Editor Ryan Gardener said that if there were any witnesses, they have not yet come forward. He also said that advertisers in the paper have called and complained about the theft. So far the school administration has not questioned any students in the matter.

The last instance of newspaper theft on Linfield’s campus was eight years ago when members of a fraternity stole copies of the paper. In that incident, said Gardener, the members confessed to the theft and had to pay the cost of reprinting the newspaper.

This time, however, there have been no official confessions to school administrators, according to the college’s dean of students, Dave Hansen. Because no one has confessed to the theft, and because there is no supporting evidence as to who might have stolen the papers, Hansen said, it is unlikely that anyone will be punished.

In North Carolina, copies of the student newspaper at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have been vanishing from boxes across campus.

An editor for the paper, John Sweeney, said that an unknown number of copies of The Daily Tar Heel, which has a circulation of 20,000, disappeared from news racks on October 3. In an earlier disappearance on September 19 Sweeney said the paper’s general manager reported all of the papers missing. The disappearances have followed no pattern, Sweeney said, but the university police have been notified.

The university’s judicial programs officer, Margaret Barrett, said that taking papers is a violation of two parts of the university student code: theft of personal property on the premises and deprivation of the free speech rights of others. The university’s administration has yet to decide whether the paper’s disappearance will be considered theft. According to a story in the student paper, if the school decides the papers were stolen and if the culprits are identified, the school’s student attorney general said those involved could be prosecuted.

Meanwhile, on October 9, a student group removed from stands approximately 1,700 copies of Et Cetera, the student newspaper of Eastfield College in Mesquite, Texas. The paper prints between 2,500 and 3,000 copies, said the paper’s adviser, Marilyn Worsham.

The students told newspaper staff members they took the papers because of an editorial cartoon that was run in the October 9 issue, according to Et Cetera editor Cory Johnson. The students, members of the Organization of United Hispanic Students, took the papers to protest a cartoon they said was racist, said Johnson.

The student newspaper’s adviser said “it is unfortunate that [the incident] happened” and that she and members of the Et Cetera staff were surprised the cartoon drew such a heated reaction from students. Worsham said she had not expected the cartoon to be controversial before the paper ran it.

“[The paper’s staff] didn’t see the same thing [the students] saw,” she said, referring to the cartoon. So far, administrators at the school have refused to take action against the group.

“You can’t steal free papers,” said the school’s vice president of student development, Felix Zamora. Zamora said he is working to bring both parties together to try and work the matter out, but that no disciplinary action was being contemplated against the students.

Students at Eastern Michigan University better be wary of where they put their student newspapers. They just might not see them again.

On October 16, after receiving complaints from students about missing copies of the Eastern Echo, adviser Paul Heaton decided to keep an eye on the building where the papers had been reportedly disappearing.

He soon found what he was looking for when a campus police officer, acting on a statement from a member of the paper’s staff, confronted a university janitor. The man admitted to taking the papers that morning and placing them in the garbage bin behind the building.

The adviser said in a campus police report that he found about 250 papers in the garbage behind the building. The janitor told police he took the papers because the students threw them all over the floor and did not pick up after themselves. The school has said it will not prosecute the janitor because police have refused to classify the act as a theft.

In Massachusetts, an administrator admitted to the editor of the student newspaper at Clark University that he threw copies of an alternative newspaper into a recycling bin.

Rebecca Kirszner, editor of The Scarlet, said a school administrator told her he took copies of the alternative paper Wheatbread because the papers “weren’t good for Clark.” The administrator refused to comment on the incident.

“It was wrong,” said Wheatbread editor Randy Mack. “We have a forum for student expression [at Clark], and people we pay to provide us with peripheral services came in and decided they would prevent students from having access to this [medium]” said Mack.

The school’s dean of students, Denise Darrigrand, said she would not have taken the same route as the administrator, whom she would not identify. Darrigrand said that instead of taking copies of the student-funded publication, she would have “left them there.” She said university police investigated and found no evidence that a theft had occurred.

In DeLand, Fla., a university’s department of public safety found copies of the university’s student newspaper in a student’s dormitory room after the paper published the arrest of another student on drug charges.

The female student’s boyfriend was arrested for dealing drugs and for stealing a Stetson University scale worth over $400, said the Stetson Reporter’s Managing Editor, Stacy Gum. Gum said that after public safety officials found the papers in the student’s room, Gum and editor Davina Yetter met with the student judicial officer, David Bergen, about the theft. “We told him it was wrong, but if it happens again, we want…whatever it takes” said Gum. Yetter agreed, saying she wanted to get the message across that stealing newspapers is wrong.

Bergen refused to disclose details of the case, but did say that Stetson University considers it theft when individuals take newspapers with the intention of depriving others of the opportunity of reading them. He also said the student involved participated in the university’s judicial system and that the matter was resolved.

In the first case this school year of newspaper theft involving a high school, some students at Rondout High School in Accord, N.Y., received their copies of the student newspaper Rondout Review, but only after adviser Rosalou Novi discovered 450 papers missing. A total of 500 copies of the newspaper, which is published at least once a month, were printed on October 23, according to Novi.

That day, the 50 copies not taken had been distributed to faculty mailboxes during the school’s third period, said Novi. By the fifth period, all the remaining papers had vanished, leading the adviser to contact the school principal, William Cafiero. Cafiero was upset, said Novi, and, after getting the newspaper’s master copy from her, he reprinted 500 Reviews and had them distributed. The stolen papers were later found by a janitor who noticed them stuffed in cafeteria garbage cans. He remembered hearing about the theft from the local news media, and contacted Cafiero, who is investigating, said Novi. Cafiero could not be reached for comment.


reports, Winter 1996-97