Should Newspapers Discontinue Their Crime Blotter / Mugshots Sections? – Reason

From the Biloxi (Miss.) Sun-Herald, in December (thanks to my student Jennifer Wilson for the pointer):

We’ve … discontinued our daily “mugshot” gallery on sunherald.com.

For years, we posted the pictures of people charged with felony crimes, and, again, it was a popular part of our website. But the mugshot stayed a part of people’s lives forever, whether they were convicted or not. Plenty of people have contacted us over the years to say they were cleared of the crime but that mugshot has prevented them from getting jobs. It turns up in background searches.

And the mugshot gallery did not really meet our core mission of our news organization, to inform and serve the people of South Mississippi with news that affects their lives.

Should newspapers publish mugshots of people charged with felonies (or misdemeanors)? Should they publish daily crime blotters, which include the names of the people who are charged (even if there’s no broader story to which this is relevant)? If they do, should they have a policy of deleting the pictures and names from their archives after some time? Should the policy be to delete the pictures and names only if the defendant is acquitted, or the charges are dropped? (Note that charges are often dropped pursuant to a first-offender deferred prosecution agreement, rather than an outright verdict of not guilty or a prosecutorial decision to simply drop the charges.)

Newspapers certainly have a First Amendment right to publish such material, and to keep it up (so long as they accurately describe the defendants as just having been accused)—and, of course, a First Amendment right not to. The question is how they should exercise this right.

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