The editor of the student newspaper at Spokane Falls Community College and a journalism instructor who serves as the paper’s adviser believe someone may have stolen 400 copies from the racks this week to hide coverage of a sex scandal within the school’s administration.
The Communicator, which publishes three times each academic quarter, released its latest issue March 8 with a cover story about Darren Pitcher, who resigned as SFCC’s acting president in February amid allegations of sexual assault and harassment. But many did not see the story until Monday, the first day of the spring quarter following a weeklong break.
Magdalena Clough, the Communicator’s editor in chief, said she had placed 200 copies in the racks at Building 30 – the administration building – and by the end of the day Monday, all were gone. She said one rack is inside the building and another is just outside in a sitting area.
Clough found the disappearance odd, considering that no other racks on campus were cleared out. She said she refilled the racks at Building 30 with another 200 copies Tuesday morning, and again they were gone within 24 hours.
“We have no idea who is stealing these,” Clough said. “I know there’s been a lot of controversy on campus about this.”
Anyone can pick up a copy of the Communicator for free, but additional copies cost 50 cents each. The Communicator prints 1,200 copies at a time, meaning the apparent thefts account for one-third of the paper’s circulation.
The incidents were enough to prompt Jason Nix, the paper’s faculty adviser, to voice concerns in a campuswide email on Wednesday.
“As the faculty adviser, I will be working with campus security, attorneys from the Student Press Law Center and local law enforcement to discover who is responsible and ensure that they are punished for this infringement of students’ First Amendment rights,” Nix wrote. “Censoring of student media through theft and vandalism on this campus is unethical, illegal and will not be tolerated under any circumstances.”
He continued: “The staff will be asking college administrators for a statement on this issue, including a reminder to employees about how this would violate campus policies and result in disciplinary action should it be discovered that an employee of the college is responsible. The Communicator will keep pressure on administrators to take appropriate action and follow up on the outcome.”
In an interview Wednesday, Nix, a former journalist who joined SFCC in 2005, said some of his colleagues had expressed concerns about the Pitcher story, suggesting the front-page photo of Pitcher might be disturbing to his accusers. The story included no details about the allegations against Pitcher, and it ran alongside a feature story introducing the new acting president, Nancy Fair-Szofran.
“I find it hard to believe that this was a totally random act that just happened to hit that one building,” he said. “My concern is that there’s someone on this campus – be it a student or a teacher or an administrator – who thinks it’s OK to go out there and try to silence student journalism. This is not just unethical. This is against the law. This is students’ First Amendment rights.”
Nix said campus security had been responsive and promised to keep an eye on the newspaper racks, but he was concerned because administrators had been “noticeably silent” about the apparent thefts.
Annie Gannon, a spokeswoman for the Community Colleges of Spokane, said Wednesday evening that officials had seen Nix’s email but didn’t yet have further information.
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