UNC basketball fans lift postgame copies of Daily Tar Heel

NORTH CAROLINA — The editors of the Daily Tar Heel are crying foul over the disappearance of at least 6,000 copies of their Tuesday edition honoring the University of North Carolina basketball team in the wake of its NCAA basketball championship.

Copies of the Daily Tar Heel later appeared on the online auction site eBay, with some papers going for as much as $30. Although one remorseful seller paid for the extra issues he took and plans to donate the proceeds to a local charity, at least 10 copies remained online on Thursday.

“Every extra copy of the [Daily Tar Heel] is $.25, so they’re technically selling stolen goods,” said managing editor Chris Coletta.

The Daily Tar Heel staff printed 30,000 copies of the paper and distributed 20,000 by 8 a.m. on Tuesday, said Daily Tar Heel Director Paul Isom. But by 8:30 a.m., UNC students were lining up outside the newsroom, looking for papers–a sure sign that something was amiss, Isom said.

“Within an hour of the last distribution, there were none to be found,” Isom said. “We did have reports of, at specific places, folks witnessing people taking everything that was in the racks.”

At least one-third of the first 20,000 copies disappeared, Isom estimated, but said the actual number could be higher. Isom said he received five tips from witnesses reporting the theft of the newspaper at newsracks across campus. Stacks of newspapers were missing from the UNC Law School, the student health center, the ambulatory care center and the women’s health center, Isom said.

Isom said he called the UNC office of public safety to report the theft but was told the theft was not considered a crime.

“By its very nature, it’s not a criminal offense … because [the papers] are free,” said public safety communication director Randy Young. “Given the evidence that we’ve been presented with right now, it does not look like merely hoarding these things would constitute a criminal offense.”

However, police in other jurisdictions have pursued criminal charges against newspaper thieves. (See the SPLC’s Newspaper Theft forum for details.)

The total cost of the theft to the Daily Tar Heel–including the cost of printing an extra 5,000 copies to distribute Tuesday afternoon–was $2,817, according to Isom.

After staying awake until 4 a.m. after the game ended on Monday night to finish the edition, Coletta said, his biggest regret was that the Daily Tar Heel was not available to everyone on campus.

“Monday night was the biggest win in more than a decade for the men’s basketball team,” an editorial in Thursday’s Daily Tar Heel read. “But a few people’s actions have ruined the opportunity for thousands of fans who want to keep a piece of history.”

The Daily Tar Heel experienced a similar situation in April 1993, the last time the men’s basketball team won the NCAA championship. A local sports store lifted more than 100 issues of the Daily Tar Heel and sold them for $3.95 a copy.

–By Campbell Roth