COLORADO — About 1,000 copies of the Rocky Mountain Collegian went missing April 9, and fingers are being pointed at a team running for student leadership who were the subject of a critical article published the day before the thefts.
The Collegian ran a story in its Monday edition that examined campaign spending discrepancies by Ben Amundson and running mate Alexandra Farias, who are running for president and vice president of the student body at Colorado State University, Fort Collins. By Tuesday morning, many papers had gone missing, and word quickly reached the Collegian newsroom.
“We decided we were going to take action. So we submitted a police report,” said Haley Candelario, editor-in-chief of the Collegian.
The newspaper estimates it lost about $1,500, and university police are investigating, Candelario said. The Collegian runs 4,000 copies of the paper Mondays through Thursdays.
There are no immediate updates, according to Dell Rae Ciaravola, the public information officer for CSU police. Newspaper staff have also notified the Student Press Law Center legal team.
The Collegian is investigating the incident, and published a follow-up article. Several Collegian sources from opposing campaigns said they saw campaign staff for the Amundson-Farias team ripping up and taking newspapers.
When asked by Collegian reporters about the accusation, the team replied with a statement:
“We are aware that members of multiple campaigns redistributed newspapers across campus,” the campaign wrote. “Beyond that, we are focused on parking over politics and will remain dedicated to expressing our vision for the future of CSU.”
The Amundson-Farias campaign has not responded to a request for further comment.
Candelario said newspaper staff often work late into the night to put out the paper.
“To hear how much was taken, gotten rid of and destroyed, and that couldn’t be salvaged. When you put in so much work that people maybe don’t realize, it’s hard to see,” Candelario said.
Some of the eyewitness reports collected by the Collegian described people surrounding newspaper distribution staff and harassing them as they were working, said Candelario, who used to distribute the paper before she became editor. It’s not an easy or fun job, she said.
Distribution staff have no connection to the actual content, so harassing them is akin to “shooting the messenger,” Candelario said.
In response, Candelario rallied the newsroom to wake up at 6 a.m. Wednesday to help distribute the paper. Many staffers joined her during the early-morning distribution run.
“I think that was really powerful,” she said.
Spokespeople for Colorado State University did not responded to a request for comment on the thefts.
“Stealing newspapers is a cowardly, yet effective, form of censorship that we are unfortunately seeing more and more student journalists struggling to fight against,” said Sommer Ingram Dean, a Student Press Law Center staff attorney.
Colorado used to have a law on the books specifically prohibiting the theft of newspapers, but it was repealed in 2013.
Throwing away newspapers is still a punishable offense, and people who do it often mistakenly think that because the newspapers are distributed without charge, they are completely free, Dean said.
“Publishing a student newspaper involves quite a bit of expense, and depriving the intended owners (in this case, all those who want to read the newspaper) of this property is as much a theft as stealing someone’s bike,” she said.
The SPLC tracks student newspapers thefts across the country and provides resources for student media outlets.
SPLC reporter Cory Dawson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 202-974-6318. Follow him on Twitter at @Dawson_and_Co.
Want more stories like this? The Student Press Law Center is a legal and educational nonprofit defending the rights of student journalists. Sign up for our free occasional News Roundup.