Stolen newspapers

Censorship, newspaper theft and the First Amendment

Theft of newspapers, no matter the funding source, represents a fundamental threat to the viability of an engaged student press.

Allowing thieves to get away with stealing papers sends a strong message that journalists may be silenced without consequence if it suits a group or organization’s purposes. Such is the very definition of censorship.

Now, we know that a group of girls were involved in the recent theft and disposal of approximately 200-250 Signal newspapers, according to a maintenance worker that observed them placing the papers into recycling bins next to the main stand in the General Classroom Building.

And, considering the bad publicity some Greek organizations have gotten in the last few weeks, I don’t think it’s much of a stretch putting two and two together as to who might be responsible.

Now, some have tried to justify these as-of-yet unknown students and say their actions are perfectly legitimate expressions of speech. That, because they’re students, they have a right to do as they will with as many papers as they like, however they like — including throwing the papers in the trash with the express intention of depriving others the right to read them.

However, such a misunderstanding and ignorance of the law is baffling. Indeed, it does not matter whether the thieves are students or whether the paper is paid for, in whole or in part, by student fees.

Theft is theft.

It cannot be considered a valid form of expression in the same way that assualt cannot, either.

Both are crimes, are they not?

When one student deprives another the right of a free press, something inherently wrong has occurred. Because college newspapers, in particular, serve an important public function in the community by informing students in particular of the news and events relevant to their lives as a whole, each student has a vested interest in reading the paper.

Further, since students have already “pre-paid” through student fees for a subscription, if you will, they have a right to a free copy.

But that brings me to another point I’ve been dying to speak about for some time now.

Some at Georgia State appear to be under a serious misconception regarding the role of university newspaper funding and how it relates to the concept of the freedom of the press and larger First Amendment principles.

Legal precedent over newspaper theft is very clear — even when the price of the paper is “free,” which is a misnomer because each and every copy costs the publisher money, one simply steal copies of the paper. Whether from printing, delivering, stipends or money generated through ads, there is a real and tangible figure behind the ink and paper each week.

At The Signal, a little over $70,000 goes towards printing costs, which are paid for by student fee money via essential services. Everything else is paid for by ads.

Thank god.

Unlike other schools, The Signal does not have to grovel before fellow students elected through either blind luck, apathy or a lack of competition for funding. Students it has to report on, I might add.

And this arrangement has suited us well, as it shields The Signal from petty politics and narrow-minded games with how we pay our bills.

Within the last week alone, I’ve heard some poorly ill-informed and misguided souls try to suggest, or at least imply, that our funding should be cut. Their reasoning?

If some students don’t like what we’re writing, then we shouldn’t benefit from student money — completely ignoring the fact that we put around 5,000 papers each week with a largely content readership base.

Trust me, we’ve done the market research.

A few loud and vocal organizations, which honestly probably don’t even read our publication on a regular basis, don’t scare us.

And you know what I say to the people that want to rob us of our funds? To censor our work?

Bring it on.

I’ll be laughing all the way to the courthouse doors. The judge might even laugh with me.

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This is the personal page of Chris Shattuck -- an Atlanta-based media professional with a background in business reporting, nonprofits and agency PR.

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