Editor’s note: This story was updated on 8/6/2014.
CALIFORNIA — About 300 copies of the student newspaper at Pepperdine University were reported stolen last week, likely to censor a front-page story about a student who was arrested for suspected drunken driving, the paper’s adviser said. Nearly 200 more were reported missing over the weekend.
In response, Pepperdine Graphic student journalists plan to have an event to discuss the newspaper’s role on campus.
Elizabeth Smith, the newspaper’s adviser, said staff members noticed an unusual number of the Sept. 25 issue were missing from stands outside the library and student center on Sept. 26 and reported it to the university’s Department of Public Safety. They realized the newspapers normally outside the International Programs office were taken on Sept. 28, Smith said. Another 175 copies were taken from the same stand the following night. Smith said she believes the incidents are due to the same story.
Two thousand papers were distributed on Sept. 25 during the afternoon. An official with the Department of Public Safety declined to comment on the case because it is an active investigation.
The Graphic’s president and online managing editor, Whitney Irick, was the first to notice the empty newspaper stands. She wrote the story about a Pepperdine junior and an unidentified passenger who were airlifted from an area state park after the student drove into the side of a mountain and rolled over. The Pepperdine junior was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol.
Smith said the staff knew “these stories tend to be lightning rods for our campus so they were ready for” students’ potential backlash. In October 2012, about 350 copies of the Graphic were stolen because of an article about a student charged who was charged with a DUI following a car accident.
Smith said she and the staff talked about holding a forum to improve communication between the student body and the newspaper before the theft, which increased the students’ interest in having a First Amendment forum to “talk about why we cover these stories and what is the role of a campus newspaper, even on a private campus.”
Falon Opsahl, the Graphic’s Print Managing Editor, said students’ reaction to the article is disappointing.
“It seems that our campus is uninformed about the role and responsibility and journalistic ethics of a newspaper,” she said.
SPLC staff writer Anna Schiffbauer can be reached by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 127.