NORTH CAROLINA — Thousands of copies of The University Times were stolen from stands at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte last week after the student newspaper omitted a candidate in its campus election preview edition.
The issues were taken after the April 5 distribution, and on Monday editors found between two and three thousand copies piled at the front door of the building that houses the newspaper office, said University Times Adviser Wayne Maikranz.
Editors believe the theft is a response to the newspaper’s failure to include any information about one of three candidates for student body president, including his platform and picture. They say the error stemmed from a communication failure within the editorial staff.
Attached to the pile of newspaper was a note, Maikranz said, which read: “We noticed there were some important omissions from your Thursday, April 5, publication of The University Times. We thought you might like to make some corrections so we decided to return them to you.”
The note was signed by “concerned and wealthy alumni” of the university, Maikranz said.
Although campus police will continue to investigate the incident, they are not considering it a criminal matter, said William Harper, assistant chief of police and public safety at the university. He said that after conferring with the local magistrate’s office, police determined that no crime was committed.
The newspapers are free, Harper pointed out, and there was no destruction of property because the newspapers were merely moved from distribution boxes to the newspaper office. He added that school officials still could choose to pursue disciplinary action.
The newspaper includes a statement in each issue stating that the first copy is free and additional copies are 35 cents. North Carolina does not have a law explicitly criminalizing newspaper theft, but several states have successfully prosecuted free newspaper thieves under general theft statutes.
The candidate omitted from the newspaper, Justin Ritchie, said that he was not maligned for being omitted from the issue and that he was not involved with the theft in anyway.
He surmised that some unofficial campaign supporters could have been involved. Earlier in the election race, Ritche said, such supporters cased a stir when they began distributing unsanctioned campaign fliers.
“Unfortunately I cannot control my voter base when it comes to things like that,” Ritchie said.
Campus police questioned Ritchie, but they said he is not considered a suspect.
Ritchie said that he deplores the theft and that because he has friends on the University Times staff, he is aware of the effort they put into producing the newspaper.
“People like that need to have an apology,” said Ritchie, who was the top vote-getter in last week’s election with 41 percent. He is now competing in the runoff election.
Soon after realizing the newspaper’s gaffe, Editor in Chief Alex O’Neill planned an election supplement issue that would identify all the candidates and, he says, make up for the error.
The newspaper staff learned of the theft after putting the effort into the developing the voting guide, which was frustrating for O’Neill.
“It just seems so irresponsible and childish and immature,” he said. “It blows my mind.”
O’Neill said he was floored that someone would believe stealing newspapers would be the logical response to the newspaper’s mistake, rather than to petition the editor with any concerns.
“Here we are in college, and you’d expect to people to have at least the common courtesy to address the person,” he said.
By Brian Hudson, SPLC staff writer