Next time someone tells you that newspapers aren't worth the fish they wrap, trot out this tale. It stars Joan Fornace, a Catholic University senior who thought fast when she had to.

Joan is the distribution manager for CU's student newspaper, The Tower. Like every college paper I've ever been near, The Tower often treats deadlines as advisories, not commands. So it was no surprise to find Joan heading for the printer at 6 o'clock one recent morning, not at midnight, as the schedule said.

She was carrying in her arms all the stories and all the ads for the Oct. 15 issue, which was scheduled to run 28 pages, the biggest issue of the year. The sun was just thinking about coming up when Joan walked up to her car, which was parked in a lot near her apartment.

A man materialized out of nowhere. Holding his jacket over his right fist as if he were concealing a gun, he announced a holdup.

"But I have no money," Joan told him.

The guy looked vexed. So she added:

"But I'll go up to my apartment and get some if you want to wait."

The guy thought about this for a second. Then he said okay, but only if Joan left behind something of value in the meantime. "I can't let you go without leaving me nothing," the guy said.

Her life perhaps depending on it, Joan offered him her armful of stories and ads. The guy accepted.

Of course, Joan immediately ran to call the police as soon as she was out of the holdup man's sight. And by the time the cops arrived, the man was nowhere to be found.

Neither was The Tower material, naturally. Her roommates were relieved that Joan wasn't harmed. But there were no carbon copies or photocopies of The Tower stuff. What to do? Publish 28 pages full of "Compliments of a Friend?"

A cop made that question moot about an hour later. He found all The Tower copy in some bushes beside the parking lot. The Oct. 15 issue came off the presses as if there were never any doubt.

Nor is there any doubt about the best quip to emerge from the incident. It was uttered by a streetwise cop on the scene. Said he: "This guy will never make a living as a robber doing it this way."