Calif. community college paper suspects theft after 400 newspapers disappear

CALIFORNIA — Around 400 copies of Cuesta College’s The Cuestonian disappeared between Tuesday and Wednesday, says an instructor at the California community college.

That amounts to a loss of at least $180 in printing costs plus yet-to-be-estimated advertising losses, said Kim Bisheff, the school’s lead journalism instructor and the paper’s adviser. The paper prints 2,000 copies.

Two students were discussing the missing newspapers — wondering if the absence was the result of an uptick in reader interest — so Bisheff said she decided to investigate. Two newsstands were completely empty.

“Is it possible that for some reason it just became really popular? Sure, but I don’t think it’s likely,” Bisheff said. “The more likely scenario is that someone didn’t like something that was in the issue and took the papers off the stands.”

There wasn’t anything particularly controversial in the paper that might have prompted the theft, Bisheff said.

Bisheff contacted the police and was told the disappearance was not a crime. She rebuffed these claims, however, pointing to a disclaimer on page 2 of each issue that stipulates only the first copy of the newspaper is free. Because of that, many of the newspapers were legally stolen, Bisheff said. Police said they would get back to her but hadn’t as of Friday morning, she said.

Police haven’t opened an investigation and don’t plan to, said campus police Chief Joe Arteaga. He said there needs to be more information before the disappearance can be called a crime.

California has a newspaper theft law that stipulates individuals cannot take more than 25 copies of a free newspaper if the intent is to “deprive others of the opportunity to read or enjoy the newspaper.” First-time violations can be punished by a fine not exceeding $250.

“I don’t consider it a theft, honestly,” Arteaga said. “Somebody could take those papers … and have good intentions with those newspapers.”

He said he’s never noticed the newspaper’s page 2 notice in his three years at the university. Arteaga said he has taken dozens of papers at once to dole out at the police station because he likes to keep copies on-hand for people to read.

“I’ve picked up as many as 50,” Arteaga said. “If I take 40, I should’ve paid $39, technically, to the newspaper, but I didn’t because I had good intentions.”

This is the second college newspaper theft reported to the Student Press Law Center in 2014. Last year, 12 thefts were reported.

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