As a journalist, you know you are doing something right if you make some of your readers angry. By that measurement, the staff of The Mooring Mast at Pacific Lutheran University must be doing superb work.
Student editors at the Tacoma, Wash., school report that some 700 copies of the 1,500-circulation newspaper were swiped from their racks last Friday.
As the Tacoma News-Tribune reported, the edition contained several potentially controversial items that might have motivated a thief, among them a story alluding to a flap from last season over allegations that softball coaches used abusive language to players. (Those connected with the softball program deny any involvement.)
Fortunately, the university says it is treating the theft as — well, theft — and considers the action an attack on the integrity of the journalism program. That is heartening, since some institutions have shrugged off the theft of student publications as a peccadillo along the lines of removing the tag from a mattress or using the descriptions of a baseball game without the express written consent of the commissioner.
There’s been something of a “crime wave” of disappearing newspapers in recent months, with reports coming in from Arkansas State, Towson University and Ottawa University, among others. (And make no mistake, taking stuff that was intended to be given away for free is still a crime. If you don’t believe it, try backing up a truck to your church at Christmastime and driving away with all of the orphans’ presents, and see how far you get.)
If your newspaper is hit by the sticky fingers brigade — or if you just want to prepare yourself for that dreaded day — refer to the resources in the SPLC’s “Newspaper Theft Forum.” And of course, report the theft to the SPLC as well as to the police, because good laws protecting the publishers of free newspapers against theft (like the ones in California, Colorado and Maryland) will come about only if the public realizes how commonplace the problem is.