Police are investigating stolen student newspapers in South Carolina

The students suggested this for a caption: "Papers were stolen from a student union newsstand the day after printing. This issue included endorsements for Student Government elections." Photo courtesy of Hannah Dear/The Daily Gamecock

SOUTH CAROLINA — About 500 copies of The Daily Gamecock, the University of South Carolina student newspaper, disappeared on Feb. 25.

Gamecock staff first learned of the theft after a student sent the paper’s news editor a picture of two people walking out of the library with stacks of newspapers. Several other buildings were targeted, including the student union building and the building that houses the journalism school.

“I mean we’re a good paper, but papers don’t go that quickly,” said Tori Richman, the Gamecock editor-in-chief.

She tweeted about the incident this week, noting “Preventing the dissemination of news is a threat to free press” and, “As a newspaper, we respect free speech. Send a letter to the editor, email us or dm us to tell us how you feel, but don’t steal our papers to do it.”

After reviewing security footage, Richman said it looks like four students were involved. About 500 copies were taken, which is about one-fifth of the Gamecock’s print run that week, said T. Michael Boddie, a managing editor. The Gamecock publishes on Mondays during the school year.

As for a possible motive, Gamecock editors and a university spokesman believe recent coverage of the student elections may have played a role.

“The working theory is that the theft is likely tied to student government election skullduggery. Newspapers have been stolen in previous years, too, and always right before elections,” said Jeff Stensland, director of public relations at the university, which is in Columbia, South Carolina.

The previous theft was in 2015, Richman said.

The Monday edition featured an endorsement by the newspaper editorial board in the elections, as well as an article about a candidate accusing another candidate of falsifying evidence of campaign violations.

“We weren’t accusing them of anything, but the story outlined one candidate accusing another candidate of something. We think that mixed in with the editorial board endorsement could have definitely set somebody off,” Boddie said.

The students filed a police report the next day, and a police investigation is ongoing. The Gamecock is a free newspaper, but a notice in every paper allows one paper per person, with extras being one dollar each.   

The USC Student Media department doesn’t plan to press charges, Stensland said.

This isn’t the first time copies of the Gamecock have been stolen, Richman said. A similar incident happened in 2015, also during student government elections.  

In 2018, the Student Press Law Center learned of eight incidents of stolen student newspapers, marking a four-year high point. The center tracks student newspapers thefts across the country and provides resources for student media outlets.

SPLC reporter Cory Dawson can be reached at cdawson@splc.org or at 202-974-6318. Follow him on Twitter at @Dawson_and_Co.

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