Newspapers, particularly in Florida, have discovered that the public has a huge appetite for jail mug shots, says the Palm Beach Post. In May, the booking blotter generated more than half of the 45.2 million page views to the Post’s Web sites. For some sites, those hits can translate into ad sales. That motivation bothers Bob Steele, a member of the ethics faculty at the Poynter Institute, a national center for journalism training. “This tactic is not one that’s driven by a meaningful journalism purpose. It is driven by financial incentives,” he said.
“Newspapers have always run police blotters,” said Tim Burke, executive editor of The Palm Beach Post. “The obvious difference with the online blotter is the sheer number of mug shots. But we’re still telling readers (and now users) who broke the law. We still think arrests are of significant interest to the public.” While the Post notes that those featured in the daily blotter are innocent until proved guilty, there is no follow-up. “People jump to conclusions on the basis of an arrest,” said Palm Beach County Public Defender Carey Haughwout. “It’s not even half the story. It’s the beginning of the story.” She said publicizing an arrest on a minor charge erodes a protection afforded those who aren’t hardened criminals. Some would be eligible to have their records sealed or even expunged.