California student newspaper reports theft after writing about student's car crash

CALIFORNIA — Copies of Pepperdine University’s student newspaper disappeared from newspaper racks after an article ran about a student involved in a car crash who was cited for intoxication.

Around 350 copies of The Pepperdine Graphic were taken from the Tyler Campus Center on Oct. 28. The issue included a story about a female student who lost control of her vehicle, was hospitalized and then cited for driving while intoxicated.

This is the second time this semester that copies of the Graphic have been stolen, as well as the second theft following a story about students and impaired driving. In California, newspaper thefts can be punished with a $250 fine.

More than 500 copies of the paper’s Sept. 13 issue were stolen after the Graphic covered an incident where a student was arrested for driving under the influence as well as hit-and-run, after he was involved in a car crash with other students in the car.

“When we put the story online, we got a lot of heat from his fraternity brothers,” said Elizabeth Smith, the paper’s adviser, about the first theft. “He was in one of my classes, and asked at the end of the class if the paper had come out yet. It had just hit the stands, and I told him yes. We parted ways, and almost immediately the newsstands at our office were cleared.”

Smith said that editors replaced the papers, and after 10 minutes the news racks were cleared again.

“Every time we have covered a DUI, it has always involved a sorority or fraternity, and we have always gotten heat from the members,” Smith said.

The paper has reported both incidents to the university’s department of public safety. A spokesman for the department of public safety said it is currently investigating the two thefts and declined to comment further.

Smith said that security cameras did not capture anything from the first theft. In the second theft, security cameras captured a woman carrying papers away from the stand.

The school’s president issued a statement expressing his disappointment with the theft.

“I can’t imagine a scenario where the appropriate response is to simply make the news disappear, and I hope that is not the case here,” President Andrew Benton wrote. “We are better than that.”

The most recent theft cost the Graphic about $1,460 in printing costs, staff time and advertising revenue. Smith said that the paper’s average press run is about 2,000 issues, which costs $1,500 to print and contain $1,800 worth of advertising.

These thefts are the 23rd and 24th reported to the Student Press Law Center this year.

By Jordan Bradley, SPLC staff writer. Contact Bradley by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 124.