Ark. college faces consecutive weeks of vanishing newspapers

ARKANSAS — Newspapers have vanished from the stands two consecutive weeks at Henderson State University, and it’s not from extensive readership.

After running articles about the university’s Greek community, alleged late-night thievery has prevented the weekly student-run Oracle newspaper from remaining available to students.

The most recent incident occurred Feb. 28, when the paper published a story on the suspension of the university’s fraternities.

“All of our fraternities on campus are suspended from social events and I ran a story on the front about the suspension,” said Editor-in-Chief Josh Briggs.

Although he hasn’t witnessed the papers being taken, Briggs said he suspects newspaper theft because he’s never run out of copies in his time as the publication’s top editor.

Henderson State, located in Arkadelphia, Ark., has about 4,000 students enrolled with the newspaper’s circulation at about 2,000. The publication is operated through journalism classes that contribute content and distribute the paper.

“I have never ran out of papers in any one spot except for the media building. They were all gone, every one of them,” Briggs said. “I’ve been the editor for two and a half years and I’ve never had anything like this happen, so I wasn’t 100 percent sure [what to do].”

Briggs said newspapers first went missing Feb. 23 after an article appeared regarding a new fraternity on campus. The second incidence happened the following Tuesday, Briggs said. The newspaper publishes every Monday.

Briggs said he spoke to the Oracle’s adviser, Michael Taylor, about how to react.

“[Taylor] said it’s theft of property. He said first of all we need to automatically redistribute and get the papers out on the stands and start watching your areas, and go to Henderson police and file a report,” Briggs said. “I did not go to the cops then, because we were coming out with a new issue and we were going to pull those anyway. As soon as I found out what was happening [the second time], I sent a reporter out there to fill out a report.”

There are no fixed video cameras on campus except in the dormitories, Taylor said.

Briggs said he was surprised when he spoke to campus police director Johnny Campbell because he was informed the theft was not a crime.

“Campbell said, ‘Well I can’t find it anywhere in the law book that it’s against the law to take a free paper.’ I said, ‘Well even though it’s free it still has nominal value. The first couple are free, but if you take in bulk it’s still theft,’” Briggs said.

Campbell did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Taylor said it took so much time to report the incident and begin the investigation, he doesn’t think there will be any conclusion.

“The week’s run has ended as of [March 4] and I don’t think anything’s happened as of today so I seriously doubt there’s going to be any follow up investigation after today if the incident isn’t repeated,” Taylor said.

Student Press Law Center Attorney Advocate Adam Goldstein said price tags aren’t a prerequisite for property theft.

“The distinction between free and not having value is actually pretty clear if you think about it for a few minutes. It’s not a question of whether you’re charging for it, it’s a question of whether it has value,” Goldstein said. “Newspapers have value not just to the students who produce them or the students who read them, in a lot of cases the students who have paid for them through their student activity fees, but to the advertisers who have contracts to have their ads distributed in that issue. These newspapers have a lot of value to a lot of people and that means they’re certainly something that can be stolen.”

Goldstein said the line of reasoning used by campus police is illogical and couldn’t be used in any other situation.

“In most instances ambulances don’t charge people for bandages, but if you go around taking bandages out of ambulance, I’m guessing sooner or later the cops are going to ask you a few questions,” he said.