Thousands of newspapers reported missing from University of North Florida

FLORIDA — Thousands of copies of The Spinnaker‘s first summer paper were reported missing last month, two days after papers were published.

Jacob Harn, the University of North Florida student newspaper’s editor-in-chief, said 29 of the paper’s 36 newspaper boxes were emptied, totaling more than 2,600 missing newspapers. He estimated the cost of the missing papers, including lost advertising revenue, to be $4,644. The papers went missing sometime between June 13 and June 14.

“When newspapers go missing it’s usually one of two reasons,” Harn said. “It’s someone playing a joke, and the people don’t realize the severity or the consequences of what they did, or it happens when someone doesn’t like what was published in the paper and don’t want it in the public’s eye. We aren’t certain which it is.”

Harn filed a police report with UNF’s police department, and since the investigation began, police have found footage of two men taking a stack of papers from a box outside of a campus dorm. Harn said they have not yet been able to identify the men in the video, and a reporter for the paper has made a records request to obtain access to the footage to get the community’s assistance in identifying them.

“It’s been the opinion of the officials we have been working with that they don’t want to ruin a kid’s life for something that, in their mind, was just a prank,” Harn said. “But if it does come out that this was a conscious effort to spite the actual words that were printed in the paper then we want to take it seriously.”

The Spinnaker experienced a similar situation several years ago when a number of papers were missing from their boxes.

“Last time the papers were dumped, we didn’t have a listing of the paper cost, and after that we added an inscription of the cost to a student which is one free copy per student, with additional copies costing 50 cents,” Harn said.

Harn said that because the police only have proof of a large quantity of papers being taken from one location, they cannot assume the two men in the footage are responsible for the rest of the missing papers.

“We can’t say the papers were stolen, but with such a large amount of papers missing so shortly after being distributed, we’re presuming they were stolen,” Harn said.

Last week, police pulled over a car with a license plate that matched the plate seen in the surveillance video. Harn said the driver was a former student who had not been enrolled in classes at UNF since 2011. No arrest was made.

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

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct several source errors. A member of The Spinnaker staff, not Harn, made the public records request for the surveillance video. Fewer copies of the paper were stolen in this theft than in previous thefts. The student who was pulled over by police is a former student and is not registered.

By Allison Russell, SPLC staff writer. Contact Russell by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 119.