Isaac Cornetti publishes a tabloid newspaper in North Carolina, The Slammer, that features rows and rows of mug shots and rap sheets. The Christian Science Monitor calls it a garish compilation of the week's local crimes and their alleged perpetrators. The men and women, with their dour mugs, bloodied noses, and booze-induced grins, have been arrested for everything from skipping a court date to robbing a food mart. To devoted readers, The Slammer and similar publications – like Cellmates in Florida's Tampa Bay area and Jail in Orlando – perform a valuable public service, putting the gritty side of life on display and protecting the community from predatory criminals.
Critics see the papers as sensational, tawdry, and ethically dubious – a modern form of the “crime rags” that flourished in the heyday of early 20th-century yellow journalism. “This is a sad commentary on the state of American journalism,” says Bob Steele, a journalism ethics expert at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fl. “It's really painful to know that so many publications are struggling terribly and something as schlocky as this is succeeding.” At a time when dozens of newspapers are searching for buyers and for cash, The Slammer's newsstand profit margin is four times that of most local dailies, and its circulation has grown to 29,000 – up nearly 50 percent from 20,000 just last year. At more than 500 convenience stores across North Carolina, it's selling at a buck a pop. The main complaints the weekly paper gets come from perps complaining that their photos didn't get printed. In February, the paper will expand its operations from three major North Carolina counties – including the cities of Charlotte, Raleigh, and Durham – to add Columbus, Ohio.