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Use of Mug Shots on News Sites Questioned by Prof. Bob Steele '69

June 30, 2009

Bob Steele 2008.jpgJune 30, 2009, Greencastle, Ind. — Increasingly, newspapers are posting mug shots of arrested suspects on their Web sites as a way to boost Web traffic, a practice that troubles media ethicist Bob Steele. "This tactic is not one that's driven by a meaningful journalism purpose," DePauw University's Eugene S. Pulliam Distinguished Visiting Professor of Journalism tells Florida's Palm Beach Post. "It is driven by financial incentives."

Jane Musgrave writes, It has been called everything from '''journalistic malpractice' to 'ethically bankrupt.' Newspapers, particularly those in Florida, have discovered that the public has a huge appetite for jail mug shots. In May, the booking blotter generated about 52 percent of the 45.2 million page views to the Palm Beach Post's Web sites. For some sites, those hits can translate into ad sales ... While the Post, like most newspapers, notes that those featured in the daily blotter are innocent until proved guilty, there is no follow-up. There is no subsequent report if the charges are never filed, are dropped or if the person is acquitted at trial -- all things that happen in at least 25 percent of all felony cases media center.jpgand a far higher percentage of misdemeanor cases, which represent the bulk of the arrests."

Access the complete story at the newspaper's Web site.

A 1969 graduate of DePauw, Dr. Steele also serves as Nelson Poynter Scholar for Journalism Values at the Poynter Institute. He was quoted last week in an Editor & Publisher story on New York Times reporter David Rohde’s escape from Taliban kidnappers in Pakistan. Details can be found here.

Source: Palm Beach Post

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