At least 350 newspapers of the Graphic went missing sometime before Sunday afternoon in an apparent newspaper theft.
The suspiciously empty Graphic bins, reported to campus police, mark the second investigation into newspaper theft launched this semester by the Graphic and DPS. The papers went missing from bins in the Waves Cafe and Sandbar sometime between Friday night and Sunday afternoon.
Executive Editor Kayla Ferguson said both times newspapers went missing, the Graphic had run stories on drunk driving accidents involving students in a fraternity and sorority, respectively. Ferguson and others said this may offer a motive to members of these Greek organizations.
“My suspicion tells me this is probably who it is because papers don’t go missing, but we’re still waiting to hear from DPS,” Ferguson said.
DPS Senior Investigator Ed Young told the Graphic on Monday that after reviewing surveillance footage in front of the Caf, he saw a young woman at 10:51 a.m. take a large stack of newspapers. DPS is unable to review surveillance from the Sandbar, however, because those security cameras don’t face the bins.
In response to the possibility of stolen newspapers that are published by the university, President Andrew K. Benton said the “periodic and unexplained disappearance of Graphic newspapers is disappointing. When an individual is allowed to control the news, something is lost and the reputation of a community is damaged.”
According to the Graphic staff, one of the most controversial articles in the paper was about a female student involved in a car crash who was later issued a citation for driving while intoxicated.
“We’re still looking into it and trying to develop something of use,” Young said. “I think we’re going to get to the bottom of it. We have a lot more to work with this [investigation] than the previous.”
Young also said DPS is currently at a standstill in the first investigation of the missing papers from the Sept. 13 issue.
While single copies of the Graphic are free, it is illegal in California to take multiple copies of a free newspaper off the racks. California became the third state in 2006 to pass a law explicitly criminalizing the taking of free newspapers.
The Oct. 25 papers cost the Graphic $1,501 to print 2,000 copies and contained $1,850 worth of advertising revenue. Taking in printing cost, staff scholarships and advertising revenue, 350 newspapers cost about $1,460.
“If in fact our papers are being stolen, I think it’s a really cowardly way of voicing an opposing viewpoint, which is what I think in essence it is, other than being a crime,” said Elizabeth Smith, adviser of the Graphic.
Smith said if people disagree with the newspaper’s coverage, they should personally speak with the Graphic, publish a letter to the editor or comment online. “Stealing newspapers is a crime but voicing your opinion isn’t,” Smith said.
Staff on the Graphic also wondered if a piece in the Perspectives section titled, “Racy costumes could attract unsafe attention,” sparked the possible theft. The piece received negative attention over the weekend from both commenters and the online blog Jezebel.com. At press time, it has become the second most commented article on the Graphic Online Daily.
The “Racy costumes” article was originally published in the print edition of the Graphic that staff members reported stolen to DPS.
The first suspected theft happened hours after newspapers went out on Sept. 13, and staff members noticed that the bins in the Center for Communication and Business and Tyler Campus Center (Sandbar and Caf) were empty. Within two days, the drunk driving article became the most viewed and commented on article of 2012.
Working at DPS, Young said he remembered only one other instance of newspaper theft apart from the two this year.
Professor Christina Littlefield, who teaches an introduction to journalism course, remembered the third newspaper theft Young referred to during her time as a graduate assistant for the Graphic.
“It’s online, so that’s really just compounding your crime. Rather than learning from the experience and growing from the experience, you’re just trying to cover up what happened, and that never works,” Littlefield said.
Ferguson agreed with Littlefield’s explanation that stealing newspapers just draws more attention to the original article, which always appears both in print and online.
“It’s frustrating because we put so much time and effort into the paper, and obviously people who just read it don’t necessarily know that,” Ferguson said. “But I think everyone on campus has put a lot of time and effort into something and would be frustrated if someone essentially sabotaged it.”
Adviser Smith said staff members at the Graphic have been proactive about the unusual missing papers.
“As an adviser it’s something you’re always hyper-aware of especially in a small, close community like Pepperdine,” Smith said.
“So it’s just something that’s always on the back of my mind whenever we print a controversial story.”
Statement from President Andrew K. Benton concerning the missing newspaper:
“Whether mischief, a rogue act of censorship or the outright theft of University property, the periodic and unexplained disappearance of the Graphic newspaper is disappointing. When an individual is allowed to control the news, something is lost and the reputation of a community is damaged. If there is disagreement with news coverage in the Graphic, we should state it clearly, courageously and publicly. I can’t imagine a scenario where the appropriate response is to simply make the news disappear, and I hope that is not the case here. We are better than that.”
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