Controversial ad helps spike surge in theft of newspapers

Newspaper thefts on college campuses increased dramatically this spring,due in part to a controversial advertisement that has triggered theftsand protests on campuses across the country.

Although students rarely pay for an issue of their campus paper, producinga newspaper costs money — sometimes lots of it. Printing, production anddelivery costs combined with the payroll of editorial and business staffsadd up quickly, and all of these costs are rarely covered by the universityor student activity fees.

If newspapers are stolen, advertisers sometimes refuse to pay becausereaders never saw the ads. Bonnie Thrasher, adviser of the Arkansas StateUniversity newspaper, The Herald, said university officials therehave forced student thieves to pay for lost advertising revenue and printingcosts.

“In effect, our advertisers have lost what we guaranteed to them-thatthey would reach our audience,” she said.

In some cases, campus and local police are willing to prosecute — orat least discipline — thieves, and newspaper staffs can take several measuresto recoup losses after a theft and prevent future problems.

The chancellor of the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh hasbeen outspoken in his disapproval of newspaper theft. In a statement issuedafter the March 14 theft of 2,000 copies of The Advance-Titan, ChancellorRichard Wells suggested expulsion as punishment for those responsible andcalled freedom of expression paramount to the health of the universitycommunity.

“This assault on our most cherished freedom is an assault against thevery life force that creates and sustains a university like ours,” partof the statement read.

According to Amy Holschbach, editor of The Advance-Titan, bothuniversity police and the dean of students are conducting separate investigationsinto the theft, which editors suspect was sparked by an article about underagedrinking at a sorority party. Both investigations are ongoing.

Campus police at Bloomsburg University in Bloomsburg, Pa., foundand returned about 1,300 copies of The Voice’s 2,000-paper pressrun in February. Editor Seth Bordner said he believes the papers were stolenbecause of a front-page photo of emergency workers carrying a student whohad collapsed and later died after playing football.

According to Bordner, police officers discovered the missing newspapersin the dorm of the deceased student.

Bordner said 5,000 papers were delivered around 2:45 p.m. on Feb. 9,and an hour later he received calls from a maid and two students who saidthey were upset by the picture. Then students and staff began calling thenewspaper’s office to ask if the paper had been distributed, Bordner said.

“What happened was unfortunate, but grief is not a license to steal,”he said. “Those students who were upset by this article cannot preventthe other 7,500 students on campus from reading the paper.”

Ohio State University police would not allow The Lantern’sadviser to file a report after a Feb. 5 theft of about 10,000 papers, accordingto editor Chris Newmarker. The issue contained an article about the misuseof $2,250 of student government funds for a private dinner.

But university administrators punished the student thieves, who wereall members of OSU’s student government.

Under the punishment, the students may no longer hold student governmentpositions while attending OSU. They also had to apologize to the editorsand reimburse the paper $3,200 to cover lost advertising revenue. Eachstudent also served 20 hours of community service, which included paintingTheLantern’s newsroom.

Student editors at Brown University, the University of Californiaat Berkeley and the University of Wisconsin at Madison all watchedstudents steal papers to protest publication of an advertisement arguingagainst paying reparations to blacks for slavery.

The ad, paid for by conservative author David Horowitz, received nationalattention because of the thefts and protests by student groups that followedits publication in many campuses’ student newspapers (seePaidSpeech).

While it is unclear how many papers were stolen at UW Madison and Berkeley,4,000 copies of The Brown Daily Herald’s 5,500-paper press run werestolen by a coalition of several student groups. Herald staff membersdid not press charges against the coalition but said they were preparedto do so if more papers were taken, according to general business managerNick Russo.

Interim President Sheila Blumstein first issued a statement condemningthe theft but later issued another statement calling the ad “deliberatelyand deeply hurtful” and asking students and faculty to be mindful of the”impact the publication of this advertisement has had on the Brown communityas a whole.”

Wichita police declined to press charges against a student suspectedof stealing 3,000 copies of the Feb. 19 issue of the Wichita State Universitystudent newspaper, but the case is still pending in university disciplinaryproceedings.

Todd Kelley, a student government association senator at Wichita State,returned about 1,000 copies of the paper to The Sunflower officeFeb. 23, after he wheeled a stack of them into the SGA campus issues committeemeeting two nights earlier.

According to Sunflower editor Teshia Morris, Kelly wanted toshow there were too many copies of the newspaper available, and becauseof this, the paper’s funding should be cut.

Kelley could not be reached for comment.

Morris said the paper has a printed policy stating that the first copyis free, but each additional copy costs $1.

After two people were put on trial for stealing a student newspapernewsstand at Middle Tennessee State University, at least one ofthem is suspected of stealing nearly 90 percent of the April 4 press runof the newspaper, Sidelines, which contained an article about acourt hearing for the previous theft.

Jenny Crouch, director of student publications and Sidelinesadviser, said one of the people charged with stealing the newsstand isan MTSU student, but the other is not. Crouch said she believes the studentalso stole the papers but is unsure whether the other person was involved.

Sidelines reported that several students witnessed the newspapertheft the day of the student’s court appearance for stealing the newsstand.Crouch said she is in the process of filing charges against the studentwhom she believes stole the papers.

Students at St. Bonaventure University in New York decided tocut a story out of about 1,000 copies of The Bona Venture toprevent others from reading an article about a friend who pleaded guiltyto charges of criminally negligent homicide and driving while intoxicated.

The thieves then sent a letter to the newspaper that said they had actedin hopes of protecting the guilty student. The Bona Venturefiled a complaint against the three students who signed the letter, whichis being investigated by university administrators.

At several colleges and universities, newspaper theft has met with littlereaction from campus or local police or administrators.East Los Angeles College officials were the thieves in Marchwhen the student newspaper, Campus News, published a photo administratorsthought showed a witness to a student’s murder.

Administrators say the sheriff’s department instructed them to confiscatethe papers, but the sheriff’s department denies that was the case.

The next day, however, officials returned the 4,000 papers-which constitutemost of the 5,000-paper press run of Campus News — to racks aroundcampus, saying the students’ First Amendment rights outweighed their concernsabout security.

College President Ernest Moreno refused to apologize for the administrators’actions, telling the Los Angeles Times that while student editors’First Amendment rights “had top priority,” the administrators who tookthe papers “did the right thing.”

Campus police at the University of North Texas refused to conducta criminal investigation into the theft of 9,000 copies of the NorthTexas Daily in February that cost the paper more than $3,000 in lostad revenue and production costs, according to editor Marie Eschenfelder.

No criminal investigation will be pursued because the Daily isa free publication, according to Sgt. Greg Prickett of the North TexasPolice Department

“There was no criminal offense,” Prickett said. “We put together aninformational report, and if we do find out who did this, we will referthem to the dean of students for disciplinary action.”

Eschenfelder said she believes the theft may have been an attempt toprevent the distribution of a front-page story about local fraternity memberswho yelled racial slurs at a group of high school football recruits touringthe campus.

Nevertheless, in 1995 the University of Texas at Austin police departmentconducted a criminal investigation that led to a charge of criminal theftagainst a student for taking 5,800 copies of the Daily Texan, alsoa free publication.

Despite three thefts of The Stoutonia this year alone, policeand administrators at the University of Wisconsin at Stout willnot investigate any of them.

“Technically, because they do not charge for those papers, it’s nottheft,” said Lisa Walter, director of campus police.

Corey Klein, editor of The Stoutonia, said the paper’s policyis that the first is free, but each additional copy is 50 cents, to bepaid at the paper’s office. Klein said this policy is printed on the mastheadof each issue.

During the fall semester, 3,500 copies of the paper were stolen, andthe paper paid $500 to reprint the issue. On Feb. 8, close to half thepaper’s 5,500-paper press run was stolen. The issue contained an articleabout a sexual assault on campus in which two of the football team’s quarterbackswere accused of raping a student. Stoutonia staff members replacedthe stolen papers by redistributing copies from other parts of campus.

Students stole about 500 copies of the April Fool’s issue, Klein said,because of a photo of a gymnast on the back page that was digitally alteredto increase the size of her buttocks. He said several students participatedin the theft, but only one admitted to doing so — after a Stoutoniaemployee witnessed her stealing the papers.

The issue of the paper published following the theft contained an additionalfour pages detailing the April Fool’s theft and the February theft anddescribing the lack of action by authorities. The issue’s editorial askedfor apologies from those responsible for the thefts and asked the universityto create a policy to prevent future problems.

Klein said he feels there is a double standard for student newspaperscompared to other campus organizations.

“I can’t go into any organization and shut down their meeting, but effectivelyanyone can shut us down,” he said.

A man was caught on tape stealing 750 copies of the Feb. 20 issue ofthe University of South Carolina student newspaper and dumping theminto two trash cans, but that was just the beginning of The Gamecock’sproblems.

Despite the videotape evidence, campus officials refused to investigatethe theft, which staff members believe was prompted by the paper’s endorsementof student government candidates.

Editor Brock Vergakis said he discovered the identity of the thief,and the paper ran some house advertisements asking him to come forward,but the student communication board was unhappy with the ads.

In late April, the board was to select the editor for the next year,and Vergakis was the only one who applied. Vergakis said the board neverscheduled an interview with him and sent a letter to all other membersof the Gamecock staff informing them they had been nominated forthe position. He said the board informed him that he or whoever took overas editor would have to publish an apology for printing the house ads.

Vergakis said some of the board members have student government ties.The student government’s adviser is on the board, although he has no vote,and one of the student members is a roommate of two other students whowere not endorsed by The Gamecock.

Six students at Tennessee Technological University stole nearlythe entire press run of The Oracle student newspaper April 6 becauseof an editorial they did not like, editor April Blevins said.

All of the students are being punished by the university, accordingto Dean of Students Ed Boucher, who declined to detail the sanctions broughtagainst the them. Blevins said she spoke with one of the students who toldher they will have to pay restitution and have been put on academic probationfor two years. She said the issue cost $2,089.53 to produce.

More than 3,500 copies of the April 26 issue of the University ofTexas at Arlington student newspaper were missing that day, but editorsare unsure why.

The papers were missing from racks, news editor Nabeel Jaitapker said,and some of them were found in recycling bins. University police are investigatingthe matter, Jaitapker said, and the newspaper will press charges if someoneis identified as responsible for taking the newspapers.

The retail advertising manager for student publications at UT fileda complaint after he noticed that racks in several buildings around campuslacked newspapers. The Shorthorn publishes Tuesdays through Fridaysand has a press run of 10,000 copies.