June 23, 2020

This story was updated June 23 to include three more newsrooms that are changing how they use mugshots. 

Three more local newspapers have made changes to how they use mugshots: the Lincoln (Nebraska) Journal Star, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and al.com.

The Journal Star responded to a tweet with the news that it took its mugshot gallery down to reevaluate it. And the Post-Dispatch’s editor, Gilbert Bailon, told Poynter in an email “We are ending the monthly mugshot galleries in July.” And al.com told readers about the change, which includes not using them at all with few exceptions.

“This is a first step in reimagining our coverage of crime and justice. In November, a group of Alabama Media Group reporters and editors began discussing how to make our crime and justice coverage more meaningful for our digital readers.”

Both the Post-Dispatch and the Journal Star are owned by Lee Enterprises. Al.com is owned by Advance Local.

The change follows several that began earlier this month when Gannett newspapers previously owned by GateHouse announced they’d stop publishing mugshot galleries.

A few days later, the Orlando Sentinel and the South Florida Sun Sentinel did the same.

“We’ve come to realize that without context, the galleries have little journalistic value and may have reinforced negative stereotypes,” both sites, which are owned by Tribune Publishing, told readers.

Tthe Tampa Bay Times, which Poynter owns, followed by cutting its mugshot gallery.

“The galleries lack context and further negative stereotypes,” said Mark Katches, executive editor of the Times. “We think the data is an important resource that our newsroom will continue to analyze and watch carefully, but the galleries alone serve little journalistic purpose.”

(Disclosure: I’m working on an obituary project with the Times as part of a fellowship.)

While more and more newsrooms have stopped displaying mugshot galleries, many, including all of the above, still say they’ll use mugshots in crime stories.

Last summer, WCPO in Cincinnati put even tighter restrictions on the process. Now, they’ll usually only use mugshots if the suspect is still on the loose or if officials think there could be more victims.

“WCPO has had a long-standing policy not to use mug shots of crime victims. Now, we are adding this additional policy involving crime suspects,” Mike Canan, senior director of local content, told readers in January. “We think it is ethical and responsible without harming our commitment to accurate journalism.”

Kristen Hare covers the business and people of local news for Poynter.org and is the editor of Locally. You can subscribe to her weekly newsletter here. Kristen can be reached at khare@poynter.org or on Twitter at @kristenhare.

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Kristen Hare teaches local journalists the critical skills they need to serve and cover their communities as Poynter's local news faculty member. Before joining faculty…
Kristen Hare

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  • Here is another way news organizations can right a wrong. Since news organizations began charging families for obituaries, the obits tend to skew white and high income. It’s as if the only people in our communities who led interesting lives are white. Can the industry figure out a way to tell the stories of good people of all ethnicities throughout the community when they die?