Committee, editor clash over police report for stolen papers

INDIANA — The Student Publications Committee and editors of The Shield, the University of Southern Indiana’s student newspaper, are clashing over how a recent case of newspaper theft should be handled.

When 2,300 copies of The Shield disappeared from news stands Oct. 11, editors immediately notified campus security and wanted to file a report with local police. But Adviser Patricia Ferrier said she decided to involve the committee in determining whether the investigation should be handled outside of the university.

“I thought the committee should be aware of the effects of the theft and have a role in deciding who would be in charge of investigating,” Ferrier said.

The committee, comprised of students, faculty and administrators, voted against filing a police report.

Jondi Schmitt, The Shield‘s editor in chief, said she was disappointed with the committee’s decision, and that it is “completely ignoring the issue at hand.”

Despite the recommendation, Schmitt could still decide to file a police report, Ferrier said. The committee’s recommendation is not binding.

Kathy Funke, the university’s director of news and information and a committee member, said the committee’s decision is not final but rather a “first step” in the investigation on campus.

“I think the faculty and administration just want to investigate ourselves and see what else is involved,” Funke said.

Committee Chair Wayne Rinks said an argument was made that the incident should be handled internally for the “good of public relations.” The stolen newspaper issue included a photo of two women kissing on its front page, which had initially appeared in a campus magazine and sparked a heated debate. The Shield was covering the controversy surrounding the photo and an anonymous e-mail sent to editors confirmed that the newspapers were taken because of the photo.

Committee members also questioned whether the incident could be classified as theft, Rinks said. The Shield is a free newspaper, and additional copies are supposed to cost 25 cents, but committee members argued that there is no mechanism in place for students to pay that fee.

“The argument is that someone could say they meant to pay for the 2,000 papers but didn’t know where to pay for them,” said Ferrier, a non-voting member of the committee.

While Colorado, Maryland and California have specific newspaper theft laws, other states have prosecuted newspaper thieves under general theft statutes. Schmitt said she will continue to pursue the case, but is unsure whether she will file a police report.

Meanwhile, Schmitt says campus security is continuing its investigation and is looking into the anonymous e-mail, which is believed to have come from a university computer. The stolen copies were reprinted Oct. 12 and campus security increased surveillance around distribution racks. There were no reports of theft occurring with the reprinted issues.