MASACHUSETTS, ILLINOIS — Signs of a new school year: the leaves are turning, footballs fill the air and newspaper thieves at America’s college campuses are back in action.
In the first reported newspaper theft of the 1996-97 academic school year, over 2,000 copies of the Northern Essex Community College Observer were stolen Sept. 20.
The incident occurred just after 8 a.m., according to the paper’s adviser, Joseph Le Blanc. While walking across campus, the adviser said he saw two female students in the process of removing the papers from a distribution point and placing them in white plastic bags.
According to Le Blanc, when he asked the students about their actions, they ignored him and continued to remove the papers. They told Le Blanc that taking the newspapers was their form of protest over an article in the Observer criticizing welfare recipients.
Campus security was called to the scene, said Le Blanc, and the students were asked to stop taking the papers. The students agreed, saying they would return the stolen papers. According to Le Blanc, only two bags containing about 500 copies were placed outside the newspaper’s offices.
A few days later, students at Eastern Illinois University received an unexpected surprise when they went to pick up their copies of the Daily Eastern News student newspaper.
According to editor Travis Spenser, about 8,000 of the paper’s 9,100 total circulation disappeared from drop-off points around campus on Sept. 24 between 8 a.m. and 8:50 a.m. The News reprinted 4,000 copies and distributed them across campus later in the day.
The reason for the theft, as well as possible suspects, remains unclear for students and faculty. Spenser, who spoke to the university judicial board about the thefts, said he wanted the paper to get back the money it had lost. The paper’s publisher, John David Reed, said those responsible should be caught.
“If you don’t like someone, you don’t shoot them, if you don’t like what a person writes, you don’t steal newspapers,” said Reed.
The Student Press Law Center recorded 28 newspaper thefts at colleges or universities last school year and 30 thefts during the 1994-95 school year.