Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Censorship by Theft: Stealing Newspapers Is the Latest Craze for People Trying to Silence the Campus Press

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Censorship by Theft: Stealing Newspapers Is the Latest Craze for People Trying to Silence the Campus Press

Article excerpt

ON TUESDAY, NOV. 1, the Illinois Benedictine College Candor distributed its press run of 2,000 papers around campus at 10 a.m., as usual, but within an hour most of them had disappeared.

Gone as well was the story about how the president of the student government had skirted the constitution by skipping ratification of committee appointees, a cartoon lampooning him, and an editorial calling for his resignation.

Four days earlier, most of the press run of 14,000 copies of the Clemson Tiger similarly vanished between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m., soon after landing at distribution points around campus.

Student journalists refused to speculate about who took the papers, but also gone were highly controversial stories on the national champion soccer team's revolt against its coach's violent outbursts and a female custodian's lawsuit over a male student she discovered masturbating in a locker room.

Welcome to the latest craze in the rough-and-tumble world of campus journalism: stealing newspapers because you don't like what's in them.

Both papers refused to be silenced. They called police. They ordered more papers from their printers. As of this writing, there were no arrests.

Ironically, within a week or so, both papers were telling their tales at a joint convention of College Media Advisers and the Association of Collegiate Press, a gathering of 2,400 college journalists and advisers in New Orleans last month.

As victims of the latest fad in censorship -- theft -- the two college papers had plenty of company. Despite a growing body of case law extending First Amendment rights to the college press, censorship horror stories abound at the nation's 100 or so campus dailies and 800 weeklies.

Censorship ranges from overzealous administrators who are so appalled at the campus paper casting campus life "in a bad light" that they fire the editor or cut off funding, to student governments pulling the plug on newspaper funds, to administrations seeking to put a rosy facade on campus life by cutting off information on campus crime, even though such reports are public by aw.

Theft of newspapers is just the latest tactic used against the perennially besieged college press.

Long a minor irritant, logging about four reports a year, theft exploded to about 20 incidents in the 1993 school year and doubled to about 40 the following year, according to Mark Goodman, an attorney and director of the Student Press Law Center (SPLC) in Washington, D.C.

Reports to the SPLC of all forms of censorship jumped by one-fifth last year to 312, the increase attributed mainly to theft.

One survey of the college press found one in five editors had experienced a theft in the last year.

Theft is a "major problem, and if it hasn't happened to you yet, it may in the next few years," Goodman said.

The catalyst for its popularity, say campus press observers, was a 1993 incident at the University of Pennsylvania in which black students confiscated nearly the entire press run of 14,000 copies of the campus paper because, they said, it perpetuated "institutional racism." Since then, theft has become the in-vogue technique for censoring college newspapers -- "nouveau censorship," one instructor called it.

College papers have been largely powerless against malcontents who try to silence newspapers by stealing them, thus preventing others from reading them. …

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