Media Weigh Issues Of Identifying Sex Offenders


Ronald Dupont, editor of the High Springs, Fl., Herald, a weekly newspaper near Gainesville, once believed that publishing sex offenders’ photos when they haven’t committed new crimes amounted to punishing them for crimes for which they’ve already served time, says the Gainesville (Fl.) Sun. He changed his mind this year, after incidents in which adults approached children and tried to pick them up, leading to fear and shock in the community. “For that to happen in the area we cover, for a newspaper our size, is pretty significant,” he said. “That made us think, ‘We need to let people know.’ ”

News organizations vary greatly in their decisions and reasoning behind whether to run pictures of registered sex offenders. Bob Steele of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, said the wide range of sex offenses, and the danger of lumping those together, may give news executives pause. Editors and producers may also think about the likelihood of negative consequences for the sex offenders. The Gainesville Sun makes decisions on a case-by-case basis and with great caution, says Executive Editor Jim Osteen. Issues include the chance of misidentifying someone as an offender and the implications of running photos of some criminals but not others. “There are all kinds of other crimes that we don’t go to such great lengths to publicize,” Osteen said. “There are murderers living next door to people who we don’t identify at all. Every case is different, which is why we take it on a case-by-case basis. Running pages and pages of posters of these people, I think, can be dicey.”


Comments are closed.