The great YES! Weekly paper caper

by Brian Clarey

By now, regular readers of this newspaper have likely heard about the Great Newspaper Heist of 2009, wherein some 6,000 or so copies of YES! Weekly disappeared from our racks and boxes between Wednesday afternoon distribution and Thursday’s dawn. The caper covered most of downtown Greensboro and a stretch of High Point Road; nearly 400 distribution points were hit, about a quarter of the total. And though its possible, we suppose, that the papers could have been picked up by hordes of ravenous readers who descended upon the freshly-printed bundles like locusts on a quivering field of wheat, we think it more probable that this was the result of a concerted effort on the part of a few. “It had to be at least six or seven guys,” said Bryan Schoolfield, our senior distribution associate, “and still it must have taken them all night.” Why, you ask, would someone steal 6,000 free newspapers? And is it even possible to steal something that is labeled as “free”? First, let’s clarify the “free” thing: Yes, our publication is free to all our readers, and we graciously supply each and every one of them with a free issue (actually, it’s more like every 2.5 readers, but that’s just industry mumbo-jumbo). But, as it clearly states in every issue, you only get one per customer; each additional copy costs a buck. We put that in there a year or so ago, when people were snagging free newspapers by the ton and flipping them at recycling centers for cold, hard cash. It’s the way free newspapers protect themselves from these kinds of things, turning newspaper theft into actual larceny, and it also places a simple valuation on the missing property — you know, for insurance purposes. As to why someone would want to keep people in downtown Greensboro and its environs from reading their favorite weekly magazine… well there could be any number of reasons. The issue was a pretty hot one, with a sassy jazz singer on page three, recollections by Keith T. Barber about his recent trip to the Sundance Film Festival, a piece by veteran sportswriter Al Thomy about the last great Cardinals football team and an opinion column by Chuck Norris wherein he proposes sending the Gitmo detainees to Alcatraz and establishing a “Chucktatorship.” But what’s more likely is that our cover story, “Downtown Babylon,” written by Jordan Green, ruffled a few peacock feathers in the sometimes insular world of Greensboro nightlife. If you’ve read the story, maybe you know what I mean. If you haven’t, head over to and give it a gander. That’s another thing: Is newspaper theft even a viable strategy to control the flow of information in the internet age? These days, when something is out there, it is truly out there, and when the truth runs like water, not even six guys with pickup trucks can stop the flow. The surge in hits at our website, www., as well as increased traffic to our blog,, attest to that. The internet notwithstanding, all it took for us to rectify the situation was to call out printer at the Winston-Salem Journal and order another press run, which Schoolfield and the rest of the team had on the streets before sunset. This was after filing the necessary police paperwork, of course. And frankly, we couldn’t have asked for better publicity. Newspaper theft qualifies as a form of censorship, and even in a business which can be as vicious as a springtime wedding-dress sale, it’s something on which we all can get together. The event was documented by Editor & Publisher, the News & Record, News 14 Carolina and a short list of Greensboro bloggers who kept the story alive with link love and comment threads. But nowhere was evidence of unintended consequences more evident than in downtown Greensboro itself, where everyone wanted to know: Where can I get a copy of that paper that somebody didn’t want me to read? It’s important to remember here that the reason we began investigating the story in the first place was that we sensed a demand: A shift in power at some of the old-guard names in Greensboro nightlife triggered a veritable outbreak of tongue wagging, and the rumor mill was getting fed even more vigorously than usual. Our goal was to set the record straight. And judging by the letters, e-mails, comments and phone calls we’ve gotten, this is exactly the kind of story that people around here want to read: fearless, biting, relevant. It’s the kind of story YES! Weekly was created to report. And it’s the kind of work we pledge to continue in the future. And I promise you this as well: YES! Weekly will always be a free paper. But remember, just one to a customer please.