Newspaper theft can lead to jail time, attorney says

University police are currently investigating two suspects in a recent alleged newspaper theft on campus.

Witnesses reported seeing students steal entire bundles of newspapers from campus newsstands Nov. 8.

The Flor-Ala’s executive editor and adviser reported the theft to campus officials and UNA police. The alleged crimes are now being processed through the university’s student conduct office.

Newspaper theft is a crime and individuals can be prosecuted through a variety of legal avenues, according to the Student Press Law Center’s website. The SPLC is a legal advocate for student media.

“Newspaper theft is theft,” said Adam Goldstein, attorney advocate at the SPLC, “The mistake that people will make is that they’ll say, ‘If you’re not charging for it, how can someone steal it?’ But just because you’re not charging for it, doesn’t mean it’s not theft. You don’t ask, ‘Is it free?’ You ask, ‘Does it have value?’”

Josh Skaggs, executive editor of The Flor-Ala, said while 50 of the missing papers were returned, The Flor-Ala still lost approximately $350 for the remaining copies taken. Skaggs also said individuals who steal copies of the paper are stealing the product numerous writers, photographers and editors work to produce each week.

“We pay $985 to print the paper each week, and we print about 4,000 copies,” Skaggs said. “When students decide that they’re going to steal newspapers off of our stands, they’re taking away about 200 hours of collective time spent putting together a weekly publication that students could be getting relevant and pertinent information from.”

Goldstein said stealing newspapers should be taken seriously.

“You can go to jail for newspaper theft,” Goldstein said. “I mean, you would have to steal a lot of newspapers for it to happen, but at some point it ceases to be petty theft and becomes a larger problem.”

Skaggs said he intends to follow through to make sure the thefts are adjudicated.

“I give this warning to any students, faculty or community members that think it is OK to steal the Flor-Ala: I will ensure proper prosecution and punishment for stealing any amount of papers over the free issue we provide each week,” Skaggs said.

The Office of Student Conduct adjudicates alleged crimes committed by students, Shields said.

“For individuals being referred to the student conduct board, Dr. (Kim) Greenway (Director of Student Conduct) will review the report and any additional information before determining the appropriate charges,” said David Shields, vice president for student affairs. “She will then notify them and they will begin the code of conduct process, including the hearing. If it’s determined that an organization as a whole was involved, it would be dealt with through the Office of Student Engagement and their respective adjudication board.”

Director of Student Engagement Tammy Jacques said sanctions are not concretely set in place prior to a hearing.

“You don’t go into a case with preemptive sanctions,” Jacques said. “The whole process is meant to be educational, but you have to put all of the pieces together first and get the whole perspective before you hand down a sanction.”

Shields and Jacques said possible sanctions, such as community service and disciplinary probation, are listed in the student handbook, but sanctions are not given until the completion of the hearing.

“Whether this is a suspendable offense or not, I don’t know,” Shields said. “It has to be determined by Dr. Greenway and what she reviews from the information available.”

Greenway was not available for comment at press time.

The Flor-Ala distributes papers across campus and in the Shoals community each week, with the first issue being free to students and staff members at UNA while any additional copies can be bought costing $1 per issue.