New York paper believes story on failed health inspection grade led to newspaper theft

NEW YORK — Hundreds of copies of the Long Island University-Brooklyn student newspaper featuring a story about campus dining health violations have been reported stolen.

The paper is typically distributed on Thursdays, but this issue was submitted to the printer late and came out on Friday, Feb. 22. Because fewer students are around on Fridays, Seawanhaka Press News Editor Chase Melvin decided to place some copies in racks around campus, but left between 700 and 800 “in the usual spot” near the security desk in the school’s main building.

Over the weekend, another staff member noticed papers were missing, and by Monday none were left, Editor-in-Chief Mabel Martinez said.

Staff members believe the paper was stolen because of its cover story: “Blackbird Café Closes.” The newspaper reported that the café, run by an Aramark Food Services affiliate, was given a failing health inspection grade.

The staff has since had meetings with Aramark and school officials, and two separate investigations have begun.

Michael Carbone, LIU-Brooklyn food service director, directed questions to Brian Harmon, the university’s public relations director. Harmon said Aramark is “conducting its own in-house investigation.”

Martinez said Aramark told her staff they planned to have an answer by next Tuesday. A meeting has been scheduled for that day.

University Provost Gale Haynes said information technology personnel and associate provosts are reviewing security tapes for the university’s investigation.

“Any allegation of this type is something we take very seriously,” Harmon said. “As a university, we don’t advocate anything that would censor our student journalists in any way.”

Harmon said no “evidence of wrongdoing” has yet been found.

Haynes said she doesn’t understand why the papers were taken when the café’s failing grade had already been announced, but wants “to make certain that we resolve this.”

“I find it very surprising that this would have happened because this was a public issue. There were signs on the door: ‘Closed by the public health department,’” she said. “I find it odd and sort of really question why anyone would do that.”

Melvin said the staff spent around $1,400 or $1,500 to reprint the issue, “because we felt the story was important enough that it demanded it.” The reprint was distributed Feb. 28, and many students said they had never seen the original issue, Martinez said.

Managing Editor Keeley Ibrahim said the lost money was upsetting, but that the infringement of the staff’s free speech rights is even more harmful.

“I think our biggest problem is that it’s a form of censorship,” Ibrahim said. “We’ve published other sensational papers and it’s never happened to us before, at least not this team.”

This is the second student newspaper theft reported to the Student Press Law Center in 2013. Last year, 27 thefts were reported.

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