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The News-Gazette‘s statement about publishing mug shots is terrible

We are just barely into 2019, and this morning, The News-Gazette trotted out more of the same.

Niko Dugan, Online Copy Editor, published an article “On mug shots and crime reporting”, and it simply falls short. The justification for publishing mug shots, no matter how judicious they plan to be from here on out, is still dangerous and irresponsible and embedded with their bottom line. 

We’ve been part of a growing group of people calling out this practice for years now, no matter how they chose to frame it today. That they are just now addressing it, but also not apologizing for it, and admitting that they will still do it, is sadly, expected. 

They continue to dance around the bigger issues. Here they are: 

They don’t discuss why posting mug shots reinforces systematic racism

The most significant issue surrounding the practice of publishing mug shots circles back to a larger systemic issue: racism. One doesn’t need to be the most educated person on the planet to understand that people of color and people in disenfranchised communities are more likely to be arrested than white people, and here in Central Illinois, we are no exception. While the N-G puts on their “reporting” cap here in their justification, the damage is already done when the mug shot hits the internet. 

They use their mug shot portal to earn advertising revenue

Take one glance at their online portal of mug shots and it is completely littered with advertising and clickbait garbage. We are no stranger to living in a world where advertising revenue is of vital importance to the health and growth of a publication. We earn income from advertising, too. 

The N-G lures readers into visiting the portal because ultimately, at their own admission, people click on mug shot photos, and once they enter the portal, there are endless pages to visit with faces of recently arrested people for their financial benefit. It is garbage journalism, and will always be abhorrent and unacceptable. The people arrested are literally innocent until proven guilty. This is still the United States of America. But the court of public opinion does not adhere to the same standards of our courthouses. In their statement, they avoid discussing the problematic nature of clickbait advertising utilizing these mug shots, thus avoiding another real issue at hand.

Just because the photos are removed from their website doesn’t mean the damage isn’t already done

We can’t believe we have to say this, but it appears we have to: Just because the photos are removed from a story or even the portal doesn’t mean they are wiped from the face of the earth. The internet doesn’t forget. Certainly, the victims affected don’t either. The photos are online forever — in some way, shape, or form — and despite the fact that this isn’t the N-G‘s fault with which to begin (the County Sheriff makes them visible for all to see on its website, where the newspaper scrapes it for the content) they are a conduit to a much larger audience that otherwise probably wouldn’t find the photos online. 

Consider the N-G a magnifier that projects the photos on a larger scale. Aplification at its finest.

They act as though they are doing readers a favor by following up on all cases to their “conclusion”

We like the idea that they would announce that they plan to follow stories to their conclusion, but since reporting is their job, and they earn a livelihood doing it, this doesn’t make any of us feel like congratulating them.

That The N-G addressed this through the lens of a copy editor, and not from the mouth of the publisher is a showcase of how cowardly John Reed appears to be. Perhaps Dugan wanted to be the person who penned it, and that’s fine. But this is a deeply important issue affecting the lives of many in this community, and at a certain point, the boss has to step up and address the audience. 

In a nutshell, they basically aren’t doing anything to change their practices, but they want to make people believe that they are being heard, and that they are going to be better moving forward. 

Not good enough. Not even close. 

Ultimately, we are still rooting for this newspaper to change its ways and do right by the community it covers. They do good work at times, and could do even more. But they continuously fall short by bowing to the lowest common denominator, which is media driven fear. 

We expect more of them, and we don’t think we are alone in that. 

This article was written by the Editorial Board at Smile Politely, which consists of Patrick Singer, Jessica Hammie, Seth Fein, and Julie McClure

Top photo from Wikipedia.

A previous version of this article erroneously claimed that the Circuit Clerk’s office made the mug shots available, not the Sheriff’s office. Smile Politely regrets the error. 

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