COLUMN: Trashed newspapers, a blessing in disguise

In what may be a response to recent Student Government coverage, we’ve noticed our issues tossed in the trash. Here’s why it matters.

Trash+can+in+the+stairwell+of+the+Student+Union.+Photo+by+UP+staff.

Trash can in the stairwell of the Student Union. Photo by UP staff.

Gillian Manning, Editor-in-Chief

On Sept. 20, the University Press released its usual monthly print issue, which is distributed into news racks across campus. By Sept. 29, our staff noticed they were disappearing into the depths of nearby trash cans.

The front page of the issues being tossed features a photo of Student Body President Maxwell Simonson and Vice President Lily MacDonald. The cover story is about their differing opinions on COVID-19 safety measures. While Simonson believed the vaccine was unnecessary, MacDonald advocated for vaccines and masking measures.

Speaking of, you can read the digital version here!

The day that we noticed our papers going missing was the same day the UP published an article on a TikTok created by Simonson, which has drummed up some controversy in recent days. The video featured Simonson pulling a dog out of the fridge with a caption reading, “When your Chinese friend forgets his leftovers at your house.” 

Nothing stings like seeing a project you’ve worked on for weeks being thrown away by the bundle unless you’re a journalist. In this case, I’d like to say “thank you.”

By throwing away our articles, the perpetrator (or perpetrators) have tacitly acknowledged their belief that our audience trusts what we write. For that, I am flattered.

This is not the first time this has happened to the UP, it happened in 2016 and 2019, when we reported on a football player and a party where an alleged rape took place.

That being said, watching money being thrown down the garbage bin is still infuriating. The University Press receives its funding primarily from Student Government, and if you’re a paying student or parent, that money comes from your pockets.

As of Oct. 8, our current estimate is that at least 500 paper copies have been thrown away from at least four different locations. Not only is it an attack financially, but it’s also an attack on the free press.

“Anytime someone attempts to suppress our freedom of the press, it sends a chilling effect on our freedom of speech. But in cases like these, it oftentimes has the opposite effect by bringing even more attention to the subject. I would also question the effectiveness of this perpetrator since all these stories will be online, easily accessible,” Jason Parsley, president of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Florida chapter, told the UP.

The UP has replenished emptied news racks that are then emptied again and again. It’s true that people could be so interested in the issues that they are simply flying off the shelves. However, considering that the front display issue is also removed and hundreds of papers have landed in the nearby trash cans, I have trouble believing that is the case.

While not every news rack is located near a camera, a couple of them are.

On Monday, Assistant Director of Student Media Wesley Wright and I visited campus police and filed a report. Officer Marissa Buchanan, who took our case, said that they might be able to pursue a criminal mischief charge if they catch the perpetrator(s), but not theft as the newspapers were not labeled with a price.

We have also been in contact with the Student Press Law Center, a D.C. based nonprofit that works to protect the free press at school newspapers.

SPLC legal counsel Mike Hiestand told us in an email, “You can charge those who trash newspapers with a crime   but we long ago started recommending that student media include mention of some price [because] law enforcement like yours it sounds like had a hard time getting their head around the idea that you could steal something that wasn’t clearly marked with a price.”

Lesson learned. But pursuing charges is still a possibility and one that the UP is fully intent on following through with. Campus police have assured us they’re combing through security camera footage.

On Thursday, Student Union director Michael Cooper spoke with the UP and together we were able to narrow down the timeframe in which papers were likely stolen directly in front of a camera. The director looked through that footage and assured us he is sending it to campus police, if they don’t already have it.

When the UP sheds light on what others would rather keep in the dark, there is always a risk that someone will try to keep us quiet. And, like we always have, we will pursue consequences against those responsible.

Gillian Manning is the Editor-in-Chief for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, tweet her @gillianmanning_ or email [email protected]