OH SHIT, OUR NEWSPAPERS WERE STOLEN

It’s funny: Print is dying, but idiots keep stealing stacks of newspapers and throwing them away. So if this happens to you, laugh about it. Or at least smile.

I’ll explain why in a moment. The first thing you should do is go here: Newspaper Theft Resources. This report from the Student Press Law Center features a newspaper theft checklist that’ll really help.

But here are some items the SPLC neglected to add to that checklist…

“Rejoice.”

Your papers were probably stolen because you printed a story certain people wanted kept secret.

I’m sure you’ve heard this before: “Your paper sucks, no one reads it or cares about it.” But if that’s true, why did some assholes waste their time skulking around campus, raiding your racks, and heaving hundreds of newspapers into garbage cans?

Obviously, because they’re worried you have influential readers, and those readers will believe what you report. Besides an award or a job, that’s the highest compliment a college journalist can get.

“Recruit”

At the student newspaper where I’ve advised for two decades, papers have been stolen five times – twice in one week back in 2012. The editors used each theft to recruit more talent.

Basically, they  marketed their paper as, “So good, it inspires crime.”

If you follow the SPLC’s checklist, you’ll see one of the items is, “Alert local and state news iaia.” That really works, because your local media have their own greedy reasons for discouraging such criminal censorship. (Hint: It could happen to them.)

Don’t just “alert” your local newspaper. Tell your local TV stations. We’ve gotten coverage from those before, because they love filming on college campuses and interviewing young attractive people.

Whatever coverage you get, humblebrag about it on social media. The not-so-subtle message: Pro media outlets care enough about us to cover us, so maybe you should work here.

“Re-educate”

There’s another reason college newspapers get stolen, and it’s much more rare and mundane. It has nothing to do with what you printed. It’s just the newsprint.

In 2012, engineering students stole 2,600 of our papers – to make scale-model bridges. Their professor had assigned them one of those clever projects in which flimsy materials must be assembled to support more weight than you’d think possible.

Turns out engineering students don’t read. They didn’t see the price on the cover: “First issue is free, each additional copy is 50 cents.” The professor ordered them to stop, and some of the students actually visited the newsroom to apologize.

Everybody won…

The newspaper got media attention for the initial theft and its amusing resolution, and the engineering students learned that you can indeed steal free newspapers.

Some of those future engineers walked into a newsroom for the first (and probably only) time in their lives. While they won’t long remember building a tiny newspaper bridge, their newsroom visit and friendly chat with student journalists might actually inform their opinion of the media as they grow up.

Bottom line…

Newspaper theft never works. It doesn’t hide the news the thieves intend (because, you know, Internet) and it only brings sympathetic coverage to the newspaper itself.

Even if the theft is inspired by ignorance instead of malevolence, no damage is done and people actually learn something. Which is the point of college, after all.