Controversial ad helps spike surge in theft of newspapers

Thieves steal student publications from 15 campuses nationwide

Although students rarely pay for an issue of their campus paper, producing a newspaper costs money -- sometimes lots of it. Printing, production and delivery costs combined with the payroll of editorial and business staffs add up quickly, and all of these costs are rarely covered by the university or student activity fees.

If newspapers are stolen, advertisers sometimes refuse to pay because readers never saw the ads. Bonnie Thrasher, adviser of the Arkansas State University newspaper, The Herald, said university officials there have forced student thieves to pay for lost advertising revenue and printing costs.

"In effect, our advertisers have lost what we guaranteed to them-that they would reach our audience," she said.

In some cases, campus and local police are willing to prosecute -- or at least discipline -- thieves, and newspaper staffs can take several measures to recoup losses after a theft and prevent future problems.

The chancellor of the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh has been outspoken in his disapproval of newspaper theft. In a statement issued after the March 14 theft of 2,000 copies of The Advance-Titan, Chancellor Richard Wells suggested expulsion as punishment for those responsible and called freedom of expression paramount to the health of the university community.

"This assault on our most cherished freedom is an assault against the very life force that creates and sustains a university like ours," part of the statement read.

According to Amy Holschbach, editor of The Advance-Titan, both university police and the dean of students are conducting separate investigations into the theft, which editors suspect was sparked by an article about underage drinking at a sorority party. Both investigations are ongoing.

Campus police at Bloomsburg University in Bloomsburg, Pa., found and returned about 1,300 copies of The Voice's 2,000-paper press run in February. Editor Seth Bordner said he believes the papers were stolen because of a front-page photo of emergency workers carrying a student who had collapsed and later died after playing football.

According to Bordner, police officers discovered the missing newspapers in the dorm of the deceased student.

Bordner said 5,000 papers were delivered around 2:45 p.m. on Feb. 9, and an hour later he received calls from a maid and two students who said they were upset by the picture. Then students and staff began calling the newspaper's office to ask if the paper had been distributed, Bordner said.

"What happened was unfortunate, but grief is not a license to steal," he said. "Those students who were upset by this article cannot prevent the other 7,500 students on campus from reading the paper."

Ohio State University police would not allow The Lantern's adviser to file a report after a Feb. 5 theft of about 10,000 papers, according to editor Chris Newmarker. The issue contained an article about the misuse of $2,250 of student government funds for a private dinner.

But university administrators punished the student thieves, who were all members of OSU's student government.

Under the punishment, the students may no longer hold student government positions while attending OSU. They also had to apologize to the editors and reimburse the paper $3,200 to cover lost advertising revenue. Each student also served 20 hours of community service, which included painting The Lantern's newsroom.

Student editors at Brown University, the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Wisconsin at Madison all watched students steal papers to protest publication of an advertisement arguing against paying reparations to blacks for slavery.

The ad, paid for by conservative author David Horowitz, received national attention because of the thefts and protests by student groups that followed its publication in many campuses' student newspapers (see Paid Speech).

While it is unclear how many papers were stolen at UW Madison and Berkeley, 4,000 copies of The Brown Daily Herald's 5,500-paper press run were stolen by a coalition of several student groups. Herald staff members did not press charges against the coalition but said they were prepared to do so if more papers were taken, according to general business manager Nick Russo.

Interim President Sheila Blumstein first issued a statement condemning the theft but later issued another statement calling the ad "deliberately and deeply hurtful" and asking students and faculty to be mindful of the "impact the publication of this advertisement has had on the Brown community as a whole."

Wichita police declined to press charges against a student suspected of stealing 3,000 copies of the Feb. 19 issue of the Wichita State University student newspaper, but the case is still pending in university disciplinary proceedings.

Todd Kelley, a student government association senator at Wichita State, returned about 1,000 copies of the paper to The Sunflower office Feb. 23, after he wheeled a stack of them into the SGA campus issues committee meeting two nights earlier.

According to Sunflower editor Teshia Morris, Kelly wanted to show there were too many copies of the newspaper available, and because of this, the paper's funding should be cut.

Kelley could not be reached for comment.

Morris said the paper has a printed policy stating that the first copy is free, but each additional copy costs $1.

After two people were put on trial for stealing a student newspaper newsstand at Middle Tennessee State University, at least one of them is suspected of stealing nearly 90 percent of the April 4 press run of the newspaper, Sidelines, which contained an article about a court hearing for the previous theft.

Jenny Crouch, director of student publications and Sidelines adviser, said one of the people charged with stealing the newsstand is an MTSU student, but the other is not. Crouch said she believes the student also stole the papers but is unsure whether the other person was involved.

Sidelines reported that several students witnessed the newspaper theft the day of the student's court appearance for stealing the newsstand. Crouch said she is in the process of filing charges against the student whom she believes stole the papers.

Students at St. Bonaventure University in New York decided to cut a story out of about 1,000 copies of The Bona Venture to prevent others from reading an article about a friend who pleaded guilty to charges of criminally negligent homicide and driving while intoxicated.

The thieves then sent a letter to the newspaper that said they had acted in hopes of protecting the guilty student. The Bona Venture filed a complaint against the three students who signed the letter, which is being investigated by university administrators.

At several colleges and universities, newspaper theft has met with little reaction from campus or local police or administrators. East Los Angeles College officials were the thieves in March when the student newspaper, Campus News, published a photo administrators thought showed a witness to a student's murder.

Administrators say the sheriff's department instructed them to confiscate the papers, but the sheriff's department denies that was the case.

The next day, however, officials returned the 4,000 papers-which constitute most of the 5,000-paper press run of Campus News -- to racks around campus, saying the students' First Amendment rights outweighed their concerns about security.

College President Ernest Moreno refused to apologize for the administrators' actions, telling the Los Angeles Times that while student editors' First Amendment rights "had top priority," the administrators who took the papers "did the right thing."

Campus police at the University of North Texas refused to conduct a criminal investigation into the theft of 9,000 copies of the North Texas Daily in February that cost the paper more than $3,000 in lost ad revenue and production costs, according to editor Marie Eschenfelder.

No criminal investigation will be pursued because the Daily is a free publication, according to Sgt. Greg Prickett of the North Texas Police Department

"There was no criminal offense," Prickett said. "We put together an informational report, and if we do find out who did this, we will refer them to the dean of students for disciplinary action."

Eschenfelder said she believes the theft may have been an attempt to prevent the distribution of a front-page story about local fraternity members who yelled racial slurs at a group of high school football recruits touring the campus.

Nevertheless, in 1995 the University of Texas at Austin police department conducted a criminal investigation that led to a charge of criminal theft against a student for taking 5,800 copies of the Daily Texan, also a free publication.

Despite three thefts of The Stoutonia this year alone, police and administrators at the University of Wisconsin at Stout will not investigate any of them.

"Technically, because they do not charge for those papers, it's not theft," said Lisa Walter, director of campus police.

Corey Klein, editor of The Stoutonia, said the paper's policy is that the first is free, but each additional copy is 50 cents, to be paid at the paper's office. Klein said this policy is printed on the masthead of each issue.

During the fall semester, 3,500 copies of the paper were stolen, and the paper paid $500 to reprint the issue. On Feb. 8, close to half the paper's 5,500-paper press run was stolen. The issue contained an article about a sexual assault on campus in which two of the football team's quarterbacks were accused of raping a student. Stoutonia staff members replaced the stolen papers by redistributing copies from other parts of campus.

Students stole about 500 copies of the April Fool's issue, Klein said, because of a photo of a gymnast on the back page that was digitally altered to increase the size of her buttocks. He said several students participated in the theft, but only one admitted to doing so -- after a Stoutonia employee witnessed her stealing the papers.

The issue of the paper published following the theft contained an additional four pages detailing the April Fool's theft and the February theft and describing the lack of action by authorities. The issue's editorial asked for apologies from those responsible for the thefts and asked the university to create a policy to prevent future problems.

Klein said he feels there is a double standard for student newspapers compared to other campus organizations.

"I can't go into any organization and shut down their meeting, but effectively anyone can shut us down," he said.

A man was caught on tape stealing 750 copies of the Feb. 20 issue of the University of South Carolina student newspaper and dumping them into two trash cans, but that was just the beginning of The Gamecock's problems.

Despite the videotape evidence, campus officials refused to investigate the theft, which staff members believe was prompted by the paper's endorsement of student government candidates.

Editor Brock Vergakis said he discovered the identity of the thief, and the paper ran some house advertisements asking him to come forward, but the student communication board was unhappy with the ads.

In late April, the board was to select the editor for the next year, and Vergakis was the only one who applied. Vergakis said the board never scheduled an interview with him and sent a letter to all other members of the Gamecock staff informing them they had been nominated for the position. He said the board informed him that he or whoever took over as editor would have to publish an apology for printing the house ads.

Vergakis said some of the board members have student government ties. The student government's adviser is on the board, although he has no vote, and one of the student members is a roommate of two other students who were not endorsed by The Gamecock.

Six students at Tennessee Technological University stole nearly the entire press run of The Oracle student newspaper April 6 because of an editorial they did not like, editor April Blevins said.

All of the students are being punished by the university, according to Dean of Students Ed Boucher, who declined to detail the sanctions brought against the them. Blevins said she spoke with one of the students who told her they will have to pay restitution and have been put on academic probation for two years. She said the issue cost $2,089.53 to produce.

More than 3,500 copies of the April 26 issue of the University of Texas at Arlington student newspaper were missing that day, but editors are unsure why.

The papers were missing from racks, news editor Nabeel Jaitapker said, and some of them were found in recycling bins. University police are investigating the matter, Jaitapker said, and the newspaper will press charges if someone is identified as responsible for taking the newspapers.

The retail advertising manager for student publications at UT filed a complaint after he noticed that racks in several buildings around campus lacked newspapers. The Shorthorn publishes Tuesdays through Fridays and has a press run of 10,000 copies.

reports, Spring 2001