Va. Commonwealth student newspaper reports 2,500 copies stolen

VIRGINIA -- Campus police at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va., are investigating the theft of April 2 issues of the student newspaper, which featured a controversial photo and headline on the front page.

Thieves removed approximately 2,500 issues of the 3,000-circulation paper, which is distributed twice a week at various stands around campus. Adding up printing costs and advertising revenue, the value of the stolen papers is an estimated $1,700. The newspapers have not been recovered.

"It's blatant censorship and also a tremendous waste of resources," Managing Editor Roberto Curtis said.

Editors at the Commonwealth Times suspect the theft is related to a prominently placed photo that depicted a man violently grabbing a woman's face in scene from a campus play. The headline accompanying the photo and play review said "Power of Love." Criticism of the photo and other coverage in letters to the editor and other feedback prompted editors to publish a column explaining the editorial decision to run that particular photo and headline.

VCU Public Relations Specialist Michael Porter, who represents the campus police, confirmed that the campus police are investigating the theft but could not provide details since the case is ongoing. Newspaper staff members are hoping surveillance video will provide leads or evidence.

"The heartening thing is that the police seem to be taking it seriously," Student Media Director Greg Weatherford said.

Campus police did not consider it a crime when the Commonwealth Times faced a similar theft in recent years, Weatherford said.

Like many campus newspapers, the Commonwealth Times is available around campus for free. In response to the theft, editors added a sentence to the masthead on the inside cover that states the first copy is free, and additional copies may be purchased for $1.

Curtis said that if the perpetrators were concerned about content of the newspaper, they should hold a forum or promote discussion instead of suppressing the issue.

"Whoever committed the censorship should come forward to say exactly why they felt like stealing the papers was necessary and engage in a dialogue," he said.

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