RHODE ISLAND — Two Rhode Island college students were caught on camera throwing out copies of a student newspaper.
About 100 copies of the Hawks’ Herald newspaper at Roger Williams University were trashed in late February after the paper ran a front-page story about a house party that was busted by local police. Two students at the party were tasered by police, the Herald reported.
Student journalists noticed the papers were missing Feb. 28, and RWU public safety officers quickly found the students on camera. The student journalists ran a video piece and obtained the security camera footage.
“I mean we thought the paper was popular, but not that popular,” said Kayla Ebner, the editor-in-chief of the Herald.
Ebner had been attending a reception and ran into Steven M. Melaragno, the school’s director of public safety. Melaragno gave Herald reporters the footage and sat for an interview. The paper puts out 1,000 copies a week.
The two students who were seen on camera throwing away papers admitted to public safety officials that they did it because of the front-page article.
Herald staff said they had papers stolen about a year ago, but couldn’t nail down what happened. Ed Fitzpatrick, director of media and public relations at RWU said public safety doesn’t know about any other incidents of papers being thrown away in recent years.
In a statement, Fitzpatrick said the university is committed to First Amendment values. Fitzpatrick, a longtime journalist in Rhode Island, runs a First Amendment blog for RWU.
“Throwing away those newspapers deprived other students of the opportunity to read all of the articles in that edition of the Hawks’ Herald,” Fitzpatrick said.
While the Herald is a free newspaper, it takes time and money to produce, Fitzpatrick said.
“The appropriate response to being upset about a news story is to contact the reporters or editors, or to write a letter to the editor,” he said.
Rhode Island has some of the strongest protections for student media in the country, thanks to a New Voices law passed in 2017. The law covers both public and private schools like RWU.
The Student Press Law Center tracks student newspapers thefts across the country and provides resources for student media outlets. In 2018, the center learned of eight incidents of stolen student newspapers.
Newspapers have been stolen so far in 2019 at Baylor University, University of South Carolina and St. Edward’s University in Austin.
SPLC reporter Cory Dawson can be reached at email@example.com or at 202-974-6318. Follow him on Twitter at @Dawson_and_Co.
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