A string of newspaper thefts took place across the country in March, as hundreds of copies of student publications at universities in Florida, Massachusetts and Oregon were stolen.
Each year, dozens of student newspapers and other publications on college campuses nationwide fall victim to thieves whose intent is to prevent the dissemination of news, information and opinion with which they disagree.
Within the last month, newspaper theft occurred on three different campuses — each of which distribute the papers without charge.
On its Boca Raton campus in southeast Florida, Florida Atlantic University’s student newspaper, the University Press, reported on a sexual assault that allegedly occurred last year at an annual “all you can drink” party near campus. The front-page article warned students of an ongoing investigation into an alleged gang rape and how the event — called the “South Florida Spill” — may be tied to Greek life on campus.
Emily Bloch, editor-in-chief of the University Press, said within four hours of the paper’s distribution on March 29, nearly 300 issues had been trashed, but the newspaper staff was able to recover around 250 of the stolen papers. But by early the next morning, nearly 700 issues were taken out of their bins and thrown away, she said.
The following day, Bloch said, a male photographer on staff witnessed two women throwing away the issue. After he took a picture of them, one woman grabbed his arm and told him to delete the photos, and if he didn’t oblige that her “sorority sisters would beat him up.”
Bloch, also the author of the article, said she believes the issues were thrown away due to the content of the issue — revealing a connection between the infamous party and FAU’s chapter of Omega Psi Phi, an international fraternity.
Though the university and fraternity denied involvement, Bloch reported several pieces of evidence she found that linked the fraternity to the party. For example, the South Florida Spill was once known as the “Oil Spill,” which Bloch reported are parties Omega Psi Phi chapters across the country throw, and the partygoers all wear purple and gold — the fraternity’s official colors.
Also, three officers of Sadiddy Entertainment — the company that hosts the South Florida Spill every year — became members in FAU’s Omega Psi Phi chapter within the last five years, Bloch said.
Bloch said she considers the newspaper thefts a form of censorship, and that the students who threw away the issue were deliberately hiding the news from people who deserve to see it. Additionally, Bloch said she is worried that the newspaper theft will affect how many people are going to see the story, which she said was of particular importance to the community.
“Something really terrible happened at this event, and it is happening again [on April 9],” she said. “Sexual assault is a really important topic about people in our community who are affected and could be going to this event.”
This will not affect the way the University Press will report on similar issues in the future, Bloch said.
“If anything what happened will make us pursue controversial stories more fiercely,” she said. “The negative reaction to this article, which uncovers a problem with a popular event among students, shows that we are reporting on something crucial.”
Bloch said the University Press staff is working with the university police department to check surveillance footage on campus and press charges against individuals who participated in the theft. The department did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the current status of the investigation.
Last year, more than 1,500 copies of the University Press were stolen by engineering students for a class project. The campus police investigated that incident and set up a meeting between the student journalists and the engineering school’s dean, who reimbursed the University Press for the stolen copies and set up a new policy to prevent future thefts for class projects.
At Framingham State University in Massachusetts, a police investigation into a newspaper theft did not yield a definite conclusion.
In an article, the editorial board of The Gatepost, FSU’s student newspaper, described that about 500 copies of its March 4 edition — one of only 24 issues produced each year — was stolen from newspaper bins at various locations on campus during spring break.
“We know these bins were raided because, over the years, The Gatepost staff has developed a method to detect theft,” the editorial read. “This method was created in response to similar incidents that have occurred over the years.”
The editorial staff said that the common denominator in the theft was the location: public buildings on campus that were not locked over break. After noticing nearly 25 percent of the distribution for that edition had been stolen, The Gatepost Editor-in-Chief Michael Murphy notified university police and filed a report.
Murphy said he believes the theft was tied to an opinion article that alleged students and administrators were disrespectful towards Kara Kolomitz, a final candidate for the vice president of enrollment and student development at FSU, when she visited campus and attended an open forum.
“It seems the audience perceived Kolomitz’s candidacy as a mere formality,” the author Alexandra Gomes wrote.
Though everything in the piece was factual and verified by recorded quotes, Murphy said, university officials were displeased with the reporting, which may have “ruffled some feathers.”
Murphy said the police force did not have enough evidence to come to a definite conclusion.
FSUPD Sergeant Joseph Woollard said in an email that the department does not have any suspect yet, after reviewing one week of surveillance camera in two separate newspaper stand locations on campus, with no positive results.
“That is not saying that it did not happen, it is just saying that there was no suspicious activity captured,” Woollard said. “The case can always be reopened if further information or evidence arises.”
Meanwhile, the Clackamas Community College’s Clackamas Print in Oregon City, Oregon may have experienced newspaper theft between March 9-11 in response to a cover story alleging an inappropriate relationship between a student athlete and part-time track coach.
Newspaper adviser Melissa Jones said in an email that it’s “highly likely that about 300 or more newspapers were stolen” in March after publishing the article.
“I suspect someone didn’t like the issue,” Jones said.
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.
The count for reported newspaper theft is now up to four in 2016.
SPLC staff writer Kaitlin DeWulf can be reached by email or at (202) 974-6317.