Northwest Missouri newspaper rack recovered after being tossed in pond

MISSOURI — A newspaper rack at Northwest Missouri State University was stolen near the student paper’s newsroom last weekend, leaving student reporters and the adviser wondering whether the theft was in response to a front-page story about an increase in arrests in the city of Maryville for underage alcohol possession.

Steven Chappell, The Northwest Missourian adviser, said Thursday that someone removed the rack, located in Wells Hall, on Sunday. One hundred papers are placed in the rack each week, and 35 to 40 papers remained inside when the rack went missing, he said.

The first copy of The Northwest Missourian is free on campus, with additional copies costing 25 cents, Chappell said.

“We don’t know if this was somebody mad at the newspaper or if somebody was just doing a prank at this point,” he said. “The first thing we did was asked maintenance if they moved it … we’ve had that happen before. Once we confirmed it was nowhere in the building, we reported it as stolen.”

Chappell tweeted a photo indicating the normal location of the rack Wednesday afternoon and asked students for information on its whereabouts. Twenty minutes later, a student sent him a photo showing the rack was thrown in a pond near campus.

“These racks weigh about 75 pounds a piece, so it’s not like it was a light object,” Chappell said. ““It was a heavy-duty real newspaper rack.”

Joshua Phillips, The Northwest Missourian’s online editor and author of the story, said he pointed out that an above average amount of underage alcohol-related arrests occurred near a local bar. People can enter the bar if they are at least 19, Phillips said.

“The bar owner said minors aren’t allowed to drink there and (bartenders) don’t serve them, but the story showed somehow they are still getting alcohol,” he said.

Phillips said the rack theft was surprising because he hasn’t seen or heard any backlash from readers about the piece, on social media or otherwise. Other stories on the front page included an update on the resignation of a former journalism professor who is facing felony drug charges and a story about dining changes on campus, neither of which Phillips considered controversial.

A staff editorial published in the same issue called on the Maryville Police Department and local bar owners to better police underage drinking and educate minors on the consequences of such behavior.

The paper filed a police report Wednesday afternoon, and the rack’s value is listed as $500, Northwest Missouri police officer Anthony Williams said. Police are investigating the case as a theft, but they haven’t yet gotten leads on a suspect, he said.

Facilities services employees removed the rack from the pond and returned it to its proper location Thursday afternoon. Although the rack doesn’t have permanent damage, Chappell said he would cooperate with a police investigation and wants the perpetrator to face criminal charges.

“(Police) filled out a report and said they’d be more than happy to arrest the individual,” he said.

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

By Samantha Vicent, SPLC staff writer. Contact Vicent by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 126.