Two student papers fall victim to theft over controversial content … again

Two college newspapers are trying to determine why thievesstole thousands of copies from the racks this month, costing each publicationmore than half its press run. The cases mark the first reported incidents ofcollege newspaper theft in 2003.About 3,000 copies of the Feb. 11edition of Georgia State University’s student newspaper, TheSignal, were stolen Wednesday. Staff members found empty newspaperdistribution bins across campus. Inside were typed notes reading, “Lookingfor a Signal? The people have spoken.”Ellen Opdyke, editor inchief of The Signal, said she found nothing potentially offensive in theFeb. 11 issue. She added, however, that the thefts could have been in responseto the paper’s coverage of recent crimes on campus. One studentgroup has been publicly lambasting The Signal for stories it saysdiscriminate against black students, Opdyke said. She said the paper hasrecently run composite sketches of suspects in three separate campus crimes fromlast semester and this semester, all of whom were black men. The paper printedan apology for the most recent incident because the drawing was not labeled as asketch, but Opdyke said it did little to quell the accusations by the studentgroup.Opdyke said this is not the first time copies of The Signalhave disappeared. In December, 1,000 copies of the paper’s 5,000circulation were reported missing. She said although a janitor tookresponsibility for throwing away some of the papers, she thinks the twoincidents could be linked.Campus police are currently investigating.Opdyke said she wants to be reimbursed for the stolen papers and prosecute thethieves if they are found.“I don’t know what possiblepunishments are, but this was one of our most expensive issues as far asadvertising,” Opdyke said. “Just because the papers are freedoesn’t mean you can just take it and do whatever youwant.”Another student publication in Michigan has been plaguedwith repeated newspaper thefts, although no suspects have been named.OnFeb. 3 and again on Feb. 5, 3,000 copies of The Eastern Echo, the studentnewspaper of Eastern Michigan University, were stolen. On both occasions,student staff members noticed nearly all of the bins on campus were emptied,although the off-campus distribution of the paper’s 6,500 press run wasunaffected.Kristina Smith, editor in chief of The Eastern Echo,said staff members have received several anonymous tips regarding the thievesbut that all have proved fruitless so far. She said the paper has printedseveral stories recently that have drawn criticism, and that the thefts could bein response to any one of them.Although she declined to go into detail,she said some stories in both editions could have angered readers. She addedthat the paper’s coverage of past issues, such as the anniversary of theSupreme Court’s decision in the abortion case Roe v. Wade, could have beena factor.The Eastern Echo was also a victim of theft in November,when 3,000 copies were found in a Dumpster. Staff members, who speculated thethefts were in response to one of two front-page articles, said the case remainsunsolved. Smith added that she does not think the incidents are related becausethis time the newspapers were stolen rather than thrown away.Smith saidthe police have been investigating the incident closely and that no additionalissues of the thrice-weekly publication have disappeared.

Read coverage of the previous thefts at both newspapers.

Visit The Student Press Law Center’s Newspaper Theft Forum