SOUTH CAROLINA — Campus police are investigating the theft of thousands of student newspapers at a South Carolina university after the paper published an article with false information about a fraternity chapter.
Approximately 4,500 copies of the student-run newspaper,The Chanticleer, went missing from stands last week at Coastal Carolina University, said Samantha Bergold, editor-in-chief of the newspaper. The paper has a circulation of 3,300 a week, but Bergold said copies of the paper’s Feb. 24 edition went missing along with copies from a previous edition. Bergold estimated the cost of the missing newspapers to be between $3,000 and $4,500.
Bergold said papers had been cleaned out from the newspaper stands at a number of buildings on campus and many students had told her that they had not seen the current issue yet.
“I just thought it was really strange, because they’re never all empty,” Bergold said.
Daniel Todd, an investigator in the university’s Department of Public Safety, said the department has already identified one man involved in taking the papers and are working to identify two others. He said so far, investigators have reviewed footage from a security camera that was near a Chanticleer paper stand at an entrance to the Lib Jackson Student Union. There are also two other security cameras on campus near newspaper stands, Todd said.
In the Feb. 24 edition of the paper, an article on the Student Government Association president race incorrectly stated that the campus chapter of the Kappa Sigma fraternity was under investigation for sexual assault and hazing, according to a correction posted on Twitter last week. In fact, the university did not investigate the fraternity for sexual assault but did suspend the chapter due to complaints of hazing in September 2014, according to the correction.
Bergold said she believes there is a “direct correlation” between the error and the papers’ disappearance, Bergold said. She said the correction spurred angry responses on social media, with many people sending her critical tweets and calling for her to be fired as editor-in-chief.
Total Frat Move, an online fraternity news website, published a critical story on the situation last week, slamming the newspaper staff for distributing the false information and for not issuing an apology in the correction.
Between the correction and the theft, Bergold said it’s a terrible situation both for the newspaper and the campus community.
Since the paper is funded by Coastal Carolina, Todd said the university could decide to press charges for the theft. He said the public safety department is taking the case seriously and plans on completing a diligent investigation.
“The last thing we would want (is) to miss something,” Todd said.
If investigators cannot identify a suspect by their face or vehicle on the security footage, Todd said the department can try to identify the individual by releasing their image to university residence halls and then to the student affairs department.
Every year at colleges across the country, student newspapers are stolen — a crime often done in retaliation to a published story. Last year alone, the Student Press Law Center recorded seven newspaper thefts across the country. The SPLC provides resources on how to handle a newspaper theft and tracks newspaper theft incidents across the country.
This is the first recorded theft of 2016.
SPLC staff writer Ryan Tarinelli can be reached by email or at (202) 974-6318.