Monday, October 13, 2014
Paul Berry, the Executive Director, News and Engagement at the Springfield (Missouri) News-Leader (and, full disclosure, a guy I'm Facebook friends with) wrote an editorial in his paper's Sunday edition about why they're dumping mugshot galleries:
I'd been thinking lately about the mug shots and our role as the community newspaper. As I've said countless times since getting here, our success hinges on our ability to produce quality journalism that impacts our community.
Good journalism seeks to bring clarity to confusion, helps us ask informed questions and provides us with the information we need to make informed decisions for our families, businesses and communities.
We've been struggling with how these galleries fit into our approach. While they serve as a record of arrests in our area, they raise significant questions. Was the arrest justified? Were formal charges filed? What is the condition of the person arrested?
Without proper context, the galleries serve as little more than a place for people to gawk at those who have been arrested. Many of those who are arrested need our community's help, not our ridicule.
We'll continue to report on the serious crimes against people in our community, as you've come to expect from us. And we won't shy away from holding people accountable for their actions, including publishing their photos.
But for now, mug shots are a machine we won't be turning back on again.
I've made this point before, and while I know the clickbait value of these slideshows (LOL PERSON AT THEIR WORST MOMENT LOL), it seems like newspapers, as Paul wrote, as agents charged with bringing "clarity to confusion" should probably avoid being in the business of shaming people who are still innocent until proven guilty.
Do these photos help you live a better life? No. Help you be a better member of your community? Not really. Inform you in any manner whatsoever unless you just happen to recognize someone in the photostream (and even then, you're only ahead in knowing that they were arrested, not if the case was resolved somehow)? Nope.
In fact, many of the Star's mugshots are from Maricopa County, which sort of invalidates the idea that posting these photos is some sort of community service. Even the wire-service-supplied weekly slideshow of NFL cheerleaders, which has zero news value and should be somewhat embarrassing for a theoretically serious newspaper to host, at least doesn't infringe on our basic values of justice.
Now that the paywall is up (more or less) for the Star, shouldn't they be able to dump the most absurd traffic-baiting features? First up, learning from the example of the Springfield News-Leader, should be the mugshots.