Wake Forest student newspaper reports theft after story on fraternity's suspension

NORTH CAROLINA — Two hundred copies of the Old Gold & Black student newspaper at Wake Forest University were stolen last week and only returned to their racks after university police intervened, editors say.

Last Friday, Old Gold & Black editor-in-chief Hilary Burns published an editorial that said members of the Kappa Sigma fraternity had removed four bundles, containing 50 papers each, from the Z. Smith Reynolds Library less than an hour after staffers finished distributing the papers across campus the day before. The front page of last week’s paper included a story about Kappa Sigma losing its charter following reports of hazing this semester. The fraternity was one of three fraternities found responsible for hazing during the spring semester.

Molly Dutmers, the paper’s online managing editor, called university police to report the theft just before 6:30 p.m. Dec. 5, according to an incident report. The report also indicates officers interviewed Duncan MacDougall, who the chapter’s website states is a sophomore member of the fraternity. MacDougall did not return requests for comment.

The Old Gold & Black prints 4,000 papers that are distributed on Thursdays at 41 points across campus, according to the paper’s website. Last week’s issue will be the only one printed in December, with publication resuming in mid-January.

Dawn Watkins, records custodian for Wake Forest police, said the department didn’t classify the theft as a larceny because the papers were returned upon the officers’ request.

“It was basically kind of a prank,” she said.

Wake Forest police have since closed their investigation and classified it as criminally unfounded. The report will instead go to the dean’s office, who will determine whether student disciplinary charges should be filed, Watkins said.

Burns, in her post, expressed disappointment with Wake Forest students for their hostile response to the article. The story’s online version has more than 40 anonymous comments, many of which questioned the article’s accuracy and said administrators were unfairly singling out Kappa Sigma. One also accused Dutmers, who authored the article, of having a personal bias against the fraternity.

Editors eventually shut down the comments section, saying discussion was no longer constructive and that inflammatory and vulgar comments, which violate the paper’s comment policy, were being posted faster than they could be deleted. Despite the backlash, Burns said she was glad the article helped begin discussion about hazing within Greek life.

“While we expected some pushback for publishing this article, we did not expect our peers to steal newspapers and publish highly offensive comments, many of which personally attacked one of our staff members,” Burns wrote. “As student journalists, we believe that discussion is a positive tool for change to occur. We hope that discussions about social issues on campus can be continued, except hopefully in a more respectful manner in the future.”

This is the 12th 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 via email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 126.