Student drug arrest story prompts newspaper theft, editor says

KANSAS -- At first, student editor Jen Thierer thought it was just a mistake; maybe the circulation manager was confused, or forgot to pick up the newspapers from the printer.

But when Thierer ran to the library to check the newspaper racks, they were empty.

More than 1,000 copies of The Baker Orange, the student newspaper at Baker University in Baldwin City, Kan., had gone missing last Friday morning -- less than a half hour after being delivered to eight distribution sites on the campus at around 7 a.m.

''Once I realized it had been stolen, I was upset about it,'' she said. ''That was a lot of work that everyone put in that was basically invalidated.''

That same morning, the newspaper staff scanned the remaining issues to figure out what might have triggered the theft, Thierer said. The only remotely controversial item they found was an article about John Roper, a popular student who was arrested in Manhattan, Kan., last week on several drug charges, including intent to sell cocaine and marijuana.

Police Chief Mike McKenna of the Baldwin City Police said he believed the article reporting Roper's arrest caused the theft.

Roper had friends on the newspaper staff who objected to the decision to run the story, McKenna said.

Although McKenna said there are no suspects so far, he did say that it is likely that whoever stole the newspapers knew where the papers were distributed.

Gwyn Mellinger, faculty adviser to The Baker Orange, confirmed members of the newspaper staff were friends with Roper, and that several of them objected to running the article.

Mellinger said she was ''astonished'' at their dissent. The decision to run the article on Roper's arrest was a ''no-brainer judgment call,'' she said.

''People who didn't know [Roper] were bewildered by their reaction,'' she said.

Mellinger said that while staff members may have released information about the Roper article before the paper was published, she did not believe staff members were involved in the theft.

Thierer said she reported the newspaper theft to Baldwin City Police Tuesday morning. Friday's stolen edition of the paper was reprinted and distributed on campus yesterday at a cost of $2,600, she said.

McKenna said the incident is under investigation, and that police had questioned several students and university staff members ''in an effort to try to learn the identity of the person or persons who committed the crime.''

A university spokesman also confirmed that John Frazier, dean of student development at Baker University, expressed an interest in investigating the incident.

When the newspapers were distributed Friday, few people at the private university, which has about 900 students enrolled, knew about the student's arrest, Thierer said. Many students expressed strong disagreement with the editors' decision to run the story, she said.

''People thought it would be detrimental to his reputation,'' she said. ''They felt like it was nobody else's businesses and we shouldn't be printing it.''

But the seriousness of the charges and the potential for jail time made the story newsworthy, Thierer said.

''We thought a lot about the reasons the arguments came up, because we're such a small campus,'' she said.

''But just because we're a newspaper at a small campus doesn't mean our ethical standards change.''

Properly investigating the theft and finding out who took the papers is important, said Taylor Atkins, photo editor for The Baker Orange.

''It's a big deal because it's censorship,'' she said. ''If we let this person get away with it, the next time they want to censor us, they will. It's important for us to stress that you can't just take the papers.''

Baker University, Kansas, news, The Baker Orange