Anonymous caller forewarns student editor of newspaper theft

Staff estimates more than 2,500 papers stolen

CALIFORNIA -- One anonymous caller to the newsroom threatened to trash copies of the student newspaper; another mysterious caller declared the papers were being temporarily “held hostage.”

The phone calls were part of a two-day saga for student journalists at The Orion, the weekly student newspaper at California State University at Chico.

Newspaper staff estimate more than 2,500 copies of The Orion were stolen Wednesday afternoon.

Twenty minutes before the staff discovered papers missing from five distribution sites, a woman called the newsroom and, without identifying herself, said copies of The Orion were going to be recycled.

Assistant sports editor Zuri Berry fielded the anonymous call, and said the female voice told him the paper had “misled” the student body with an editorial opposing two student government propositions up for a campus-wide vote Thursday.

“I asked her to identify herself,” Berry said.

“She said, ‘That doesn’t even matter. We’re going to take them.’ That’s when I interrupted her and said it’s a felony to steal newspapers.”

The newspaper regularly endorses or opposes student government propositions and candidates, Berry said.

On Wednesday, newspaper staff filed a report with the university police department. Officer Dale Glander said the university police are investigating the theft.

According to California law, the incident would amount to grand theft if more than 800 copies of The Orion were stolen.

The front page of each Orion reads,

“One free copy per person -- additional copies 50 cents.” If the total cost of the lost papers were more than $400, the incident would amount to grand theft.

Grand theft can be charged as either a misdemeanor or a felony and is punishable by up to one year in county jail, according to the law.

Additionally, a bill moving through the California State Assembly would make it a crime to steal more than five copies of a free newspaper if done to “deprive others of the opportunity to read the newspaper.” A first violation of the proposed law would be a fine of $250.

The incident comes on the heels of another newspaper theft at Chico State.

Berry said two weeks ago, a large batch of newspapers were taken from the academic building that houses the Orion newsroom and thrown into the recycling bin.

Berry blogged about the March 30 incident on the Orion’s Web site, and said the smaller theft was related to two controversial front-page articles -- one on the university’s softball program and another about an on-campus demonstration by right-wing Evangelical preachers.

The newsroom is upset about the more recent theft, Berry said. He said he feels especially involved as he dealt with the anonymous call. Orion staff should have responded more quickly to the threat, he said, to save the newspapers from being stolen.

A second anonymous call about the newspaper threat was made yesterday to Glen Bleske, chair of the university’s journalism department.

Bleske said the caller told him the stolen newspapers were still on campus and being “held hostage.” The caller went on to justify the theft, he said, and then asked where the stolen newspapers should be returned.

While he wanted to chalk up the theft to “hijinks gone bad,” Bleske said even if the “hostage” newspapers are returned, he wants to see the culprits caught.

“We are going to push for prosecution and investigation,” he said. “To be successful, someone will have to confess.”

Paul Zingg, the president of Chico State, weighed in on the issue yesterday in an e-mail to Leslie Deniz, chief of university police.

In the e-mail, Zingg told the police chief about his “anger and concern” about the theft of the student newspapers.

“I hope that the thefts will be diligently investigated and arrests made,” Zingg said in the e-mail. “These acts of vandalism cannot be tolerated.”

California, California State University at Chico, news, The Orion