Newspaper thefts rise sharply


Trend continues as thieves strike 15 campuses in spring semester





On Feb. 20, the staff at Temple University's student newspaper the Temple News put the finishing touches on that week's issue. This particular edition would never reach its intended audience, however, as thieves swiped nearly 9,000 copies the very next day. The staff ran into the same problem the following week, when another 9,000 copies were stolen.

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The incident was a perfect microcosm of the kind of theft-related adversity college newspapers faced that week, and throughout the spring semester. More than 30,000 newspapers from six different campuses were stolen during the week ending Feb. 28. As the Report went to press, 15 newspapers had been victimized in the spring semester, bringing the total to 25 for the 2001-02 academic year.

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The staff of the Temple News can consider itself one of the lucky ones. The case is one in which disciplinary charges have been brought against a culprit.

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Freshman Preshal Iyar, who was featured in a front-page article about an alleged mail fraud scheme in each of the stolen editions, confessed to the thefts, editor Brian Swope said. Several eyewitnesses reported seeing Iyar and at least one male accomplice removing the papers from distribution stands, according to a Feb. 28 Temple News article.

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Greg Rost, chief of staff for the president's office at the university, could not directly confirm the paper's account.

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"One of the alleged perpetrators has admitted to her involvement and that student is being referred to the university disciplinary committee," Rost told the Report in March. "And our campus security is continuing its investigation in an attempt to identify the other perpetrator, who is believed to be a student."

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Iyar is awaiting trial on federal mail fraud charges that she allegedly swindled individuals in three states out of nearly $30,000. The victims received telephone calls telling them they had been selected for a large cash gift from a charity and that they needed to make a tax payment to collect the prize. Iyar is accused of signing for the packages that contained these payments.

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"We had more than enough to get her," Swope said. "We had video surveillance [footage] of her actually stealing the papers and we actually have a photo of one of the other guys but the cops haven't put a name with a face."

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Although university disciplinary matters are confidential, Swope said he was able to verify through computer records that Iyar is no longer a student at Temple. University police, Swope said, seem inclined to treat the matter of the thefts internally.

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"The way that the chief police officer made it sound was that they were just going to take it before the [university disciplinary committee] as well," Swope said, "which doesn't really help right now because she's not a student here anymore."

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"I [haven't been] very pleased with [the investigation] from the very beginning. The police officer blatantly asked me 'How was it theft if it was free?' so it did not seem like things were going in a very good direction from the beginning. If we can find out who the other [accomplices] are, we're definitely looking into taking it to an outside investigation, even going as far as prosecuting."

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Swope estimated the paper received $13,000 in advertising revenue for the two issues, which cost a combined $8,000 to print. The paper eventually recovered about 6,000 copies of the Feb. 28 edition.

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A similar fate has befallen the student newspaper at the University of North Florida. The thieves responsible for stealing an estimated 1,600 papers have been identified, but the university is treating the matter less seriously than the newspaper desires.

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The Spinnaker

lost about $2,300 in printing costs for its April 3 edition, which included an article about a track runner who competed under a teammate's name when she did not qualify for an event. On April 8, three student members of the track team came to the newsroom to personally confess and apologize for the incident, editor David Johnson said.\n

The three students and a fourth individual then sent The Spinnaker an apologetic letter to the editor, addressed to the entire student body. "Everyone involved believes in freedom of the press and diversity of ideas," Matt Nelson, Jeff Hill, Adam Pugh and Jerry Reckart wrote. "Although we felt that the [article about the track runners] was unfair and hastily put together, we realize that a different course of action should have been taken, such as writing an editorial in the next edition of The Spinnaker."

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Despite the confession, Johnson said campus police have refused to treat the incident as a theft because the newspapers were free. Johnson said he thought that a university disciplinary committee was handling the matter.

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A school disciplinary body has also taken on a case at Emporia State University in Kansas, where an unnamed student confessed to shredding 800 copies of The Bulletin.

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The shredded papers were found in a dormitory on March 1, and were accompanied by a note that read "This is a TEST! This paper is the same crap you read in The Bulletin! Do your part to recycle! Join us!"

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The university is considering this both an act of vandalism and protest, and is waiting to see if the city attorney will prosecute, Vice President of Student Affairs Diane Bailiss said.

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The student was apparently upset with the newspaper in general, and specifically the extent to which it represented the student body.

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"What I got from my brief conversations with him was that he was against the concept of what the whole paper stood for," Director of Residential Life and Housing Jim Williams said. "[The shredding] was his way of making a statement."

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At Tufts University, The Primary Source, a conservative magazine that endured a string of thefts this winter, has apparently identified the culprit in at least one of the incidents (see Tufts, this page).

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Other publications have not been as lucky. The perpetrator behind the Feb. 26 theft of about 3,000 copies of the conservative magazine California Patriot remains unknown. That incident was the second such episode at the University of California at Berkeley this academic year. The Daily Californian was stolen in the fall.

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Two other California campuses were hit this spring as well. The University of California at Long Beach and the University of Southern California were the sites of stolen newspapers, on Feb. 11 and Feb. 22, respectively. All told, an estimated 15,200 college newspapers were stolen from the Golden State.

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One incident of vandalism was also reported this spring. At the University of California at Riverside, nearly every copy of the April 9 Highlander was stuffed with an insert attacking the newspaper. The fliers accused the paper of printing hate speech and called for the paper's funding to be "democratized" (apparently referring to a referendum to allow students to vote on which campus publications are funded from student fees). The Highlander has reported the incident to university disciplinary authorities.


Has your newspaper been the victim of a theft? Find out what to do online at the SPLC's Newspaper Theft Forum (www.splc.org/newspapertheft.asp).


reports, Spring 2002