The case of the missing newspapers

North Dakota State University’s campus paper claims thousands of copies stolen.

Last week, North Dakota State University’s student newspaper, The Spectrum, printed a particularly hot issue. Editors of the paper speculate that someone stole 4,500 copies, or – though less likely – readers snatched them off the racks for no purpose other than to read them.

The newspaper contained five pages of university employees’ salaries. Another article covered an event at the school where a student painted his face black in a controversial skit. Editors suspect university employees felt threatened by the fact that anyone could see how much they’re paid.

But all that information is public, since NDSU is a public university, funded by taxpayers. The salary information is available at the school’s library, though it likely goes untouched by the average student. Newspapers, on campuses or otherwise, often acquire and print the salaries of government employees. This information is all public, but usually requires formal requests to be viewed. Newspapers exist to provide transparency – how taxpayer dollars are spent is one way of accomplishing this. The Spectrum provided a service to its readers by informing them of how their money is being spent.

Right now, all signs point to theft. One batch of copies of The Spectrum is placed on racks Thursday nights and a second round added in the morning. Last Thursday at about 6 p.m., 4,500 copies of the paper hit the racks. By 11 p.m., some racks in usually low-traffic areas were completely empty.

A Spectrum policy states that each student is entitled to one copy of the paper, but editors believe this policy was hugely violated, going so far as to call it theft. The answer of how the newspapers vanished so quickly is a mystery. If in fact someone removed whole stacks of papers, they crushed students’ right to access information and infringed upon the newspaper’s contract with advertisers. NDSU and its community should recognize the newspaper staff’s diligence and help resolve the issue.