By Connor Mitchell
SPLC Staff Writer
Article was originally published April 4, 2017
Somewhere between 900 to 1,200 newspapers were stolen from the Virginia Tech campus last week after a seemingly routine update to a local murder trial involving two former university students.
Andrea Pappas, editor-in-chief of the Collegiate Times, said newspaper staffers noticed late Thursday afternoon that 12 on-campus distribution boxes were completely empty. She said that while the lead story of a day was the murder trial update, there was nothing controversial enough to expect the day’s papers to be stolen.
“That was a little controversial, but it was something that every news outlet had been covering,” she said. “We didn’t think we had any content running that would’ve caused people to want to steal [that day’s papers].”
Pappas said the theft cost the Collegiate Times $250 to $300, or around half of its normal printing budget for one bi-weekly run. She said the paper reported the theft to the campus authorities, who said that because paper is free for the public the police could not open an investigation or potentially charge anyone with a crime.
If there was a second theft, Pappas said she was told, the authorities could launch an investigation, but because it was the first incident there was nothing to be done, even if the motivation was to interfere with news distribution.
The Collegiate Times reached out to university officials to see if restitution could be paid for the lost papers, but has not yet received a response, Pappas said.
“It definitely seems like [the thieves] were targeting university boxes. There might be a small chance, however, it’s also very hard to say,” she said.
Pappas said she has never experienced anything like this in her nearly four years with the Collegiate Times.
The SPLC has compiled legal guides to handling newspaper thefts, including a checklist of what to do before and after newspapers are stolen.
“While most college newspapers are distributed without charge (most student media have determined it would actually cost more to collect money at the point of distribution than it is worth), they are certainly not ‘free,”’ the guide reads in part. “Like other types of theft, newspaper thieves deprive rightful owners of their valuable property. Among other expenses, student news organizations pay editorial staff to produce the newspaper, advertising staff to sell ads, printers to print it and circulation staff to distribute the finished product.”
“Newspaper theft presents a serious threat to the viability of the student press community; letting the thieves get away with it threatens the viability of a free press itself.”
Note from the editor:
This story was authorized for reprint by the Student Press Law Center under creative commons usage. According to splc. org, “The Student Press Law Center is an advocate for stu- dent First Amendment rights, for freedom of online speech, and for open government on campus. The SPLC provides information, training and legal assistance at no charge to student journalists and the educators who work with them.”
“Since 1974, the Student Press Law Center has been the na- tion’s only legal assistance agency devoted exclusively to edu- cating high school and college journalists about the rights and responsibilities embodied in the First Amendment and sup- porting the student news media in their struggle to cover im- portant issues free from censorship. The SPLC provides free legal advice and information as well as low-cost educational materials for student journalists on a wide variety of topics. In addition, the SPLC operates a formal Attorney Referral Net- work of approximately 150 lawyers across the country who are available to provide free legal representation to local students when necessary. Approximately 2,500 student journalists, teachers and others contact the SPLC each year from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.”