College Censorship Via Dumpster: a Look at Who Is Throwing Away Student Newspapers

Some folks just don't want to wait for print to die off


Colleges take a stand against reading stuff

When I was editor of my college newspaper (this was forever ago when Geocities and AOL were kings of the Internet), we printed some story that was critical of somebody or other. Possibly the college president. Possibly the school's disciplinary process. Possibly Monsanto. The newspaper hit the racks right before a break period. When we returned from the break, we discovered that most of the newspapers had been cleared from the racks. The administration told us they had disposed of them over the break as part of the "cleaning process," an explanation we found deeply suspicious, but we carried on.

Our experience was far from isolated. College newspapers get snatched from the racks and dumped frequently by various aggrieved parties, sometimes university officials, but often students. The Student Press Law Center has an interactive map that tracks reports of censorship via dumpster from 2000 on. The SPLC calculates more than half a million college newspapers have been trashed over the past 12 years. That's a lot of students upset over getting their pot busts reported.

The map features markers with additional information for notable dumping incidents. Here's a few that stood out:

University of California at Berkeley
Date: 11/4/2002
Summary: Police said that Berkeley mayor Tom Bates admitted responsibility for stealing and trashing about 1,000 copies of The Daily Californian that carried an editorial endorsement of his opponent. According to the paper, Bates had earlier denied the theft, but eventually released a statement apologizing for his actions. Several students told police they saw Bates trash the papers. Police have recommended to the district attorney he be charged with petty theft. The newspaper was able to recover 90 percent of the papers.

According to Wikipedia, Bates was ultimately fined $100 and made amends after winning the election by getting a law passed banning the theft of free newspapers.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Date: 3/17/2009
Summary: Two campus police officers admitted to recycling 300 issues of The Tech after a front page story of a MIT police officer getting arrested for drug trafficking in East Boston. Staffers learned of the incident and were able to file a police report as well as restore a majority of the papers to their proper stands. The officers were suspended without pay.

 Well, at least they didn't arrange for a SWAT raid on the newspaper office.

North Dakota State University
Date: 5/28/2008
Summary: After The Spectrum published a special issue featuring a five-page list of salaries of all university employees ran, 4,500 copies went missing from stands. The editor said a number of university employees called to complain about the paper publishing the salaries and believes that prompted the theft. The editor estimated losses of about $3,000.

One could imagine how much publishing exactly where college money is going could interfere with all those calls for more Pell Grants and government subsidies for higher education.

(Tip of the hat to the hat with a tip – Popehat)