Every year, student journalists across the country experience an age-old form of censorship through newspaper theft. This year, thousands of copies of college newspapers were stolen during the fall semester to silence editorial content that some found objectionable.
An editor of an independent student-run publication at Illinois State University says students stole 400 copies in protest of a banner headline that read, ‘Impeach Bush.’
The copies of The Indy, which has a 4,000 press run, were stolen from high-distribution areas during a six-day period following the release of the Nov. 6 issue.
‘We routinely have copies of the paper tossed out,’ said John Wilson, publisher. ‘We can be sure that thieves this time aimed at the content of the issue because copies of previous issues were left in the racks, and some copies [that carried the headline] were ripped in half.’
University police have found no suspects in the case.
In California, members of Muslim and Asian student groups seized more than 6,000 copies of the 15,000 press run of San Diego State University‘s Daily Aztec and publicly protested against the paper for two political cartoons that were published in October.
The students objected to a cartoon that depicted Iraqi president Sadaam Hussein and Palestinian leader Yassar Arafat as camels and another cartoon that portrayed an overweight Chinese man reacting to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
Copies of the newspaper were taped to the ‘free-speech steps’ on campus near the distribution bins, and students were not allowed to cross the protester’s lines to get a copy, said Courtney Westeholf, managing editor.
‘They were angry and wanted to send a message to the campus community that they didn’t like it,’ Westeholf said. ‘It was disappointing that the campus community couldn’t read the paper. That’s what angers me ‘ that’s censorship.’
No charges were filed in this case, but editors are discussing the issue with members of the student groups to try to prevent future conflict.
The Georgetown Academy, an independent conservative campus newsmagazine at Georgetown University, had as many as 1,000 copies of its publication stolen in November in reaction to satirical content directed at specific students.
Ross Grimes, editor in chief, said the copies were anonymously returned to the Office of Student Programs with a note requesting greater administrative involvement in monitoring ‘irresponsible’ use of free expression.
The note pointed to two pages within the edition that contained criticism of several students who had each taken stands that staff members of the Academy oppose. The stories made fun of the students by using epithets based on their surnames or on their ethnicity and appearances.
Administrators condemned the theft and called for more free speech on campus. No charges have been filed, but police are investigating the thefts as a crime.
A student editor at Eastern Michigan University witnessed two men removing bundles of the Eastern Echo from racks and tossing them into a Dumpster. The newspaper lost 3,000 of its 6,500 press run to thieves.
‘It felt like an assault ‘ free-speech aside ‘ it’s a waste,’ said Kevin Devine, adviser. ‘It was one of the best papers [students have] put out this year.’
Devine said he is unsure of the motive behind the thefts but believes it could be the result of two front-page stories.
One story with the headline, ‘EMU Coming Out Week’ described the activities of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender center’s activities for the week. The other story outlined a pre-trial hearing for a suspended football player who was charged with sexual assault, Devine said.
University police were notified moments after the thefts occurred by the newspaper staff, but no criminal charges have been filed.
‘Our staff responded with a ringing staff editorial about free speech. The next days paper flew off the racks, scooped up by eager readers interested in hearing more about the [theft],’ Devine said. ‘Readership has actually been up since then. It sparked the sense that the paper really does matter among students.’
A group of men stole all 5,800 copies of the Drexel University student newspaper’s press run in November, costing the paper more than $1,000 in printing losses. The university police department caught the thieves on surveillance cameras, but they were unable to identify them. The Triangle then ran the suspects photos on the front page.
A student confessed days later to stealing the copies. He stole the Nov. 22 edition in reaction to a cartoon that identified him and responded a letter to the editor he submitted earlier, said Geof Castle, editor in chief. His letter had criticized the cartoonist for stereotyping of Polish people.
An anonymous tipster named another student who was involved in the theft, Castle said.
No charges have been filed against the two students, but university police officials are still investigating the theft.
Newspaper thefts also occurred at seven other college campuses. (See BERKELEY, next column.)
During a two-day period in October, State University of New York at Albany‘s independent student-run publication, The College Standard Magazine, lost a total of 1,750 of its 4,000 press run to thieves.University police are investigating the incident.
At the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, fraternity members stole more than 3,000 copies of the Advance-Titan to use for materials for their homecoming floats in October. No charges were pressed.
Northern Michigan University students also found their news racks empty after thieves took more than 3,000 copies of The North Wind.
More than 1,000 copies of the Georgia State University‘s Signal were snatched up during Thanksgiving break. A university custodian has admitted to throwing away copies from two of the five bins emptied, but no other suspects have been found.
In Missouri, Washington University‘s student newspaper, Student Life, had 6,500 of its 7,000 press-run stolen from a loading dock before the papers could be distributed in December. The newspaper is offering a reward of $250.
And in November The X-Factor at the University of California at Riverside lost 2,250 copies of its alternative monthly, along with nine out of its 10 campus distribution bins, to thieves.