Yesterday afternoon, The Chronicle’s distribution bins were empty.
Usually that’s a good thing, because it means we had a high pick-up rate and our newspapers were being read. But yesterday, the empty bins were troubling, because no one got to read those papers.
A housekeeping staff member reported at about 1:15 p.m. that students had removed all of the newspapers from the bins outside Alpine Bagels. Chronicle staff members “rescued” those papers from the nearby recycling bins, but the fact remained that someone had tried to do away with them. In the Bryan Center, our bins had been emptied as well. Students on East Campus reported that those bins were barren, too.
When a member of our advertising staff went over to the Bryan Center to see if those papers were still there, she noticed a display outside the Duke Student Government office. Members had posted copies of The Chronicle in their entryway with words like “Lies,” “False” and “Crap” scrawled across the pages. They removed the display when an administrator advised them to do so.
Clearly, something in the March 10 newspaper was objectionable. Censoring the content by removing newspapers, however, is not an appropriate way of communicating that.
Protesting the contents of a newspaper article, or even the entire newspaper, is a right all of our readers have. But removing those newspapers from circulation is theft, not civil disobedience—if you steal the newspapers, you’re breaking the law.
The potential legal implications, however, are not why the missing newspapers are alarming. We have all heard repeatedly this year that the best antidote to objectionable speech is more speech—if no one can argue with something, it stands uncontested. Part of our job as a newspaper is to create a forum for all of that speech.
Our other job as a newspaper is to tell stories. We find the stories we think our community should know about—whether they’re administrative policies, human-interest features or trends emerging on campus—and we report them for our readers to digest. We will never be able to tell every story that’s out there waiting for us, because we can’t be everywhere all of the time. But we can put as many of those stories as possible into print every day, giving the whole community access to stories they might otherwise never know.
Stories we print will never make every person involved equally happy. But when someone disagrees with what we’ve put into print, we want to print that reaction, too. A campus newspaper is not just a one-way delivery system. Our editorial pages exist to further debate that begins on our news pages, when our readers and columnists react to the events and issues we have been covering. When that dialogue among all of our readers through our news and editorial pages is thriving, we’re doing our job as a newspaper. But when you can’t read the stories, you can’t respond. You can’t tell us when you like what you’re reading, you can’t tell us when you disagree with something and you can’t tell us when you think we’ve done something wrong.
Whoever took the newspapers out of the bins decided that no one on campus should read that day’s stories. They decided for the entire community that no information was better than objectionable information. And they decided that readers did not have the right to make their own decision and respond as they saw fit.
We don’t know who took the papers out of the bins. We have not filed a police report, although the missing newspapers are stolen property. But we encourage the people who felt the need to censor our paper to come forward.
We don’t want our readers to be passive. We welcome your comments and criticism, both in formal letters to the editor and guest commentary submissions, and in less formal feedback to members of our staff. We want to do our part in furthering the dialogue that belongs on a university campus. But the dialogue can’t start if someone cuts it off.
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