Newspaper mug shots bother ethicists

June 28, 2009 at 5:34 PM
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PALM BEACH, Fla., June 28 (UPI) -- U.S. ethicists say they're bothered by the practice of newspapers posting arrest mug shots on their Web sites as a way to boost ad sales.

Florida counties such as Palm Beach make "police blotter" photographs of detainees available to newspapers, who put them on their Web sites, generating millions of page views from curious viewers. But some say the practice holds troubling implications for newspapers and the justice system, The Palm Beach Post reported Sunday.

"This tactic is not one that's driven by a meaningful journalism purpose. It is driven by financial incentives," said Bob Steele, a member of the ethics faculty at the Poynter Institute, which owns the St. Petersburg Times.

"People jump to conclusions on the basis of an arrest," Palm Beach County Public Defender Carey Haughwout told the newspaper, noting that editors never follow up on reporting if those pictured are acquitted or released.

"Newspapers have always run police blotters," countered Tim Burke, executive editor of the 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."

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