CALIFORNIA –One anonymous caller to the newsroom threatened to trash copies of the studentnewspaper; another mysterious caller declared the papers were being temporarily“held hostage.”
The phone calls were part of a two-day saga for student journalists at TheOrion, the weekly student newspaper at California State University at Chico.
Newspaper staff estimate more than 2,500 copies of The Orion were stolen Wednesday afternoon.
Twenty minutes before the staff discovered papers missingfrom five distribution sites, a woman called the newsroom and, withoutidentifying herself, said copies of The Orion were going to be recycled.
Assistant sports editor Zuri Berryfielded the anonymous call, and said the female voice told him the paper had“misled” the student body with an editorial opposing two student government propositions up for a campus-wide vote Thursday.
“I asked her to identify herself,” Berry said.
“She said, ‘That doesn’t even matter. We’re going totake them.’ That’s when I interrupted her and said it’s afelony to steal newspapers.”
The newspaper regularly endorsesor opposes student government propositions and candidates, Berrysaid.
On Wednesday, newspaper staff filed a report with theuniversity police department. Officer Dale Glander said the university policeare investigating the theft.
According to California law, theincident would amount to grand theft if more than 800 copies ofThe Orion were stolen.
The front page of each Orion reads,
“One free copy per person — additional copies 50 cents.” Ifthe total cost of the lost papers were more than $400, the incident would amountto grand theft.
Grand theft can be charged as either a misdemeanor ora felony and is punishable by up to one year in county jail, according to thelaw.
Additionally, a billmoving through the California State Assembly would make it a crime to steal morethan five copies of a free newspaper if done to “deprive others of theopportunity to read the newspaper.” A first violation of the proposed lawwould be a fine of $250.
The incident comes on the heels of another newspaper theft at Chico State.
Berry said two weeks ago, a largebatch of newspapers were taken from the academic building that houses theOrion newsroom and thrown into the recycling bin.
Berry blogged about the March 30 incident on the Orion’s Web site, and said thesmaller theft was related to two controversial front-page articles — oneon the university’s softball program and another about an on-campusdemonstration by right-wing Evangelical preachers.
The newsroom isupset about the more recent theft, Berry said. He said he feels especiallyinvolved as he dealt with the anonymous call.Orion staff should have responded morequickly to the threat, he said, to save the newspapers from beingstolen.
A second anonymous call about the newspaper threat was madeyesterday to Glen Bleske, chair of the university’s journalism department.
Bleske said the caller told him the stolen newspapers were still oncampus and being “held hostage.” The caller went on to justify thetheft, he said, and then asked where the stolen newspapers should bereturned.
While he wanted to chalk up the theft to “hijinksgone bad,” Bleske said even if the “hostage” newspapers arereturned, he wants to see the culprits caught.
“We are going topush for prosecution and investigation,” he said. “To be successful,someone will have to confess.”
Paul Zingg, the president ofChico State, weighed in on the issue yesterday in an e-mail to Leslie Deniz,chief of university police.
In the e-mail, Zingg told the policechief about his “anger and concern” about the theft of the studentnewspapers.
“I hope that the thefts will be diligentlyinvestigated and arrests made,” Zingg said in the e-mail. “Theseacts of vandalism cannot be tolerated.”