TENNESSEE — The staff at aTennessee university student newspaper are still trying to find out who stoleapproximately 4,000 copies of the paper last month.
Copies of Sidelines, the newspaper atMiddle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, went missing within a day ofhitting newsstands according to former Editor-in-Chief Tiffany Gibson. Thenewspaper is free to students and published once a week during thesummer.
The issue, the last of the summer semester,featured a front-page story called “Rumble on the Row” aboutuniversity police breaking up a boxing match and party with underage drinking atthe Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity house. Members of the Sigma Chi fraternity werealso present, according to the Sidelines’ story.
Gibson said she is not going to assume thefraternities are responsible for stealing the papers, but she said she thinkssomeone did not want students to read about what happened. She said she hascontacted Alpha Gamma Rho and said it, too, is trying to identify who stole thepapers.
Gibson filed a report with campus policeimmediately following the theft and said she is waiting to hear back. She saidthe police have custody of a surveillance video where one of the racks islocated and hopes someone might be identified from it.
Sidelines adviser Steven Chappellsaid the newspaper was provided the name of a potential suspect by a trustedsource but said he does not know if the university police are investigating thatperson or not. Chappell said the suspect is a member of one of the fraternitiesfeatured in the story.
University Police Sergeant David Smith saidthe investigation is ongoing and a suspect has not been identified. He said hehas viewed still images from the video, but has yet to match a name toit.
Smith said that although the papers arefree, stealing them is considered a felony theft because of the cost incurred toproduce and distribute the paper.
Gibson said she estimates the cost indamages to be at least $1,000.
“I had never dealt with anything likethis,”Gibson said. “This is censorship, this is wrong. Youcan’t go around stealing papers.”
Chappell said he knew something was wrongwhen he left his office on distribution day with the racks nearly full andreturned the next morning to find them empty.
“I knew there was no way this was apopular distribution,”Chappell said. “This was an all-outtheft.”
University Director of News and PublicAffairs Tom Tozer said that while the investigation is left up to theuniversity’s police, the school condemns the stealing of newspapers. Hesaid any punishment would likely be dealt with through student judicial affairshowever, and not from the university itself.
“The university backs Sidelinescompletely,” Tozer said. “Open discourse and discussion andpublishing is what we’re all about here.”
Chappell said he turned the situation into alearning experience for the staff.
“If anything, it is a lesson about theFirst Amendment and free speech,”Chappell said. “Preventing thedissemination of information is a clear attempt atcensorship.”
Although the print edition disappeared, theonline readership “went through the roof”and potentially broughtmore readers to Sidelines’ Web site he said.
“If it does turn out to be one of thetwo fraternities, all they did was bring even more negative publicity tothemselves,”Chappell said.
The university has a history of newspapertheft. In fall 2007, all 8,000 copies of a single issue of Sidelines werestolen before they could be distributed. The copies were later recovered fromtrash bins and no suspects were ever identified. The front-page story of theissue, called “Trouble on the Row,”was also about fraternities.
In 2003, 7,500 copies were stolen and in2001, nearly an entire press run went missing from racks acrosscampus.