Student drug arrest story prompts newspaper theft, editor says

KANSAS — Atfirst, student editor Jen Thierer thought it was just a mistake; maybe thecirculation manager was confused, or forgot to pick up the newspapers from theprinter.

But when Thierer ran to the library to check the newspaperracks, they were empty.

More than 1,000 copies of The Baker Orange, the student newspaperat Baker University in Baldwin City, Kan., had gone missing last Friday morning– less than a half hour after being delivered to eight distribution siteson the campus at around 7 a.m.

”Once I realized it had beenstolen, I was upset about it,” she said. ”That was a lot of workthat everyone put in that was basically invalidated.”

Thatsame morning, the newspaper staff scanned the remaining issues to figure outwhat might have triggered the theft, Thierer said. The only remotely controversialitem they found was an articleabout John Roper, a popular student who was arrested in Manhattan, Kan.,last week on several drug charges, including intent to sell cocaine andmarijuana.

Police Chief Mike McKenna of the Baldwin City Police saidhe believed the article reporting Roper’s arrest caused thetheft.

Roper had friends on the newspaper staff who objected to thedecision to run the story, McKenna said.

Although McKenna said thereare no suspects so far, he did say that it is likely that whoever stole thenewspapers knew where the papers were distributed.

Gwyn Mellinger,faculty adviser to The Baker Orange,confirmed members of the newspaper staff were friends with Roper, and thatseveral of them objected to running the article.

Mellinger said shewas ”astonished” at their dissent. The decision to run the articleon Roper’s arrest was a ”no-brainer judgment call,” shesaid.

”People who didn’t know [Roper] were bewildered bytheir reaction,” she said.

Mellinger said that while staffmembers may have released information about the Roper article before the paperwas published, she did not believe staff members were involved in thetheft.

Thierer said she reported the newspaper theft to Baldwin CityPolice Tuesday morning. Friday’s stolen edition of the paper was reprintedand distributed on campus yesterday at a cost of $2,600, shesaid.

McKenna said the incident is under investigation, and thatpolice had questioned several students and university staff members ”in aneffort to try to learn the identity of the person or persons who committed thecrime.”

A university spokesman also confirmed that JohnFrazier, dean of student development at Baker University, expressed an interestin investigating the incident.

When the newspapers were distributedFriday, few people at the private university, which has about 900 students enrolled, knew aboutthe student’s arrest, Thierer said. Many students expressed strongdisagreement with the editors’ decision to run the story, she said.

”People thought it would be detrimental to hisreputation,” she said. ”They felt like it was nobody else’sbusinesses and we shouldn’t be printing it.”

But theseriousness of the charges and the potential for jail time made the storynewsworthy, Thierer said.

”We thought a lot about the reasons thearguments came up, because we’re such a small campus,” she said.

”But just because we’re a newspaper at a small campus doesn’tmean our ethical standards change.”

Properly investigating thetheft and finding out who took the papers is important, said Taylor Atkins,photo editor for The BakerOrange.

”It’s a big deal because it’scensorship,” she said. ”If we let this person get away with it, thenext time they want to censor us, they will. It’s important for us tostress that you can’t just take thepapers.”