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Four college papers are stolen in a week
Campus police investigate, suspects could have been disgruntled about content
March 5, 2003

Three football players at Framingham State College have admitted to stealing at least 1,000 copies of the student newspaper, its adviser said, in reaction to an article published Friday that alleged that members of the football team had forced first-year players to drink an excessive amount of alcohol during an annual hazing ritual. The theft of the Massachusetts college's independent weekly marks the fourth such case of stolen college newspapers throughout the country reported to the Student Press Law Center in one week. In late February, students also stole papers at San Antonio College, University of Connecticut and South Dakota State University. Each theft has spurred a campus police investigation, yielding suspects who might have acted in retaliation for strong stances in those stolen editions. At Framingham, campus police officers are currently sifting through several videotapes taken from the school's surveillance cameras in order to identify an additional female student who is believed to have stolen papers with the football players, said Desmond McCarthy, adviser to The Gatepost.After the police investigation is completed, the unidentified students could face a campus judiciary hearing where the players' status on the team will be decided, along with additional sanctions that might include the repayment of printing costs, said Peter Chisholm, a spokesperson at the Massachusetts college."We certainly don't tolerate it," he said. "By taking newspapers you are interfering with the ability of other students to read it."In the article, one former and two current football players, speaking under the condition of anonymity, alleged that football players haze new players.McCarthy applauded the response by the campus police, administration and football coach. First-year head coach Mark Sullivan brought members of the football team to the newspaper's staff meeting this week to apologize for the theft. "The journalism was taken seriously by the school. And the school's response to the theft was entirely supportive," McCarthy said. He said, however, that some of staff members might be less interested in tackling such a controversial issue in the future. During the week of the issue's release, two female staff reporters said they were harassed by football players, who called them, "bitches," said McCarthy.Investigative reporting in the student newspaper at San Antonio College led to theft by a student.Four hundred copies of The Ranger were snatched up Feb. 21 by a campus cybercafe student manager who claimed he wanted additional copies for the cafe to promote a front-page article about the establishment. But one student told the weekly paper, The Ranger, that Bailey's Cybercafe Manager Ron Smith had expressed anger over the article, which reported that all food sales at the cafe were halted until it received proper city food licenses. Journalism Professor Chet Hunt said a staff photographer found a bundle of the papers under a table in the cafe out of view of customers."We're not happy because it deprived 400 students in one of our main classroom buildings from picking up copies at our optimum distribution time on Friday morning," Hunt said. In a Ranger article, Smith said about his taking the newspapers, "There was no malice involved. I wasn't trying to hide anything. If anything, I've tried to support The Ranger." Smith declined to comment and directed all questions to the department of student life.Student Life Director Kathy Armstrong denied that Smith had stolen The Ranger, but she said, if Smith had collected the copies other than for promotion, it would have been inappropriate. She lambasted the front-page article, "Bailey's Cybercafe violates city code," calling the violation "much a do about nothing" and the newspaper reporting, "a gross misrepresentation." She said the student newspaper, which she labeled a publicity tool, was full of half-truths. Campus police officers are investigating, but an officer said they are unsure whether the collection of papers from the four floors of the library constitutes a crime. Hunt remains adamant that any mass collection of papers without the staff's consent is wrong. Thousands of copies of The Daily Campus at University of Connecticut were discovered in trash bags in front of the school library on Friday. Although campus police are remaining mum over their investigation, editor Elizabeth Hathaway pointed to a controversial commentary as being the potential instigator for the theft of nearly the entire 10,000 press run. The Feb. 27 issue carried a piece written by student Josh Levinson, who claimed the campus African-American Cultural Center was propagating segregation and racism by holding events that he said were exclusively for black students. Friday's edition included two pages of letters to editor in reaction to the piece. Hathaway heard that the theft was in "silent protest" of the commentary, but a representative from the cultural center told The Daily Campus that he heard no such plans.Hathaway said footage obtained from a surveillance camera at the campus bookstore shows two women stealing armfuls of newspapers on Friday morning. Lt. Craig Rich said the police have possession of the tape but would not comment on the contents of it. He said police would decide whether to pursue criminal charges or university sanctions after it was determined what crime, if any, the suspects committed.Although The Daily Campus is a free publication, Hathaway said it should be considered a theft because each student pays $7 each semester in student fees to fund the student newspaper. She also estimated the theft cost the newspaper $3,573.62 in printing and advertising revenue losses."It is very disappointing that people chose this very cowardly way to react, rather writing for or writing to the newspaper," Hathaway said.At South Dakota State University, a student editor says an election day endorsement of one of the student government president candidates could have been the motive behind the trashing of 2,325 copies of the weekly newspaper on Feb. 26. After a Sioux Falls TV station reported on the theft that evening, campus police received an anonymous tip that a portion of the papers were thrown away in an off-campus Dumpster. Soon after editor Kara Kristensen received another tip that additional papers in garbage bags would be left in front of the student union. Initially Kristensen said, "The staff was disappointed because we spent a lot of time putting together the paper. I was there until 5 a.m. People who should read that information and benefit from it were not able to." Although The Collegiate was able to redistribute all the newspapers again, the campus police department is still investigating the theft. Chief of Police Tim Heaton said they have suspects, and if they identify the thieves, the matter would be forwarded to the state attorney for prosecution. Heaton said he is unsure if the students will be prosecuted because the newspapers are free; however, he said the college judiciary board will likely hand down sanctions.There have been successful criminal prosecutions of free college newspaper thieves in other states.

For More Information: Visit the Student Press Law Center's Newspaper Theft Forum

© 2003 Student Press Law Center

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