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Friday, February 25, 2011

Mugshot Mania: For those who don't think OUR content is depressing enough

Posted By and on Fri, Feb 25, 2011 at 12:17 PM

On the off chance that reading City Paper hasn't sufficiently dented your faith in human nature, we've got some new reading material for you: 

Mugshot Mania

This weekly tabloid just hit the streets with its first issue Feb. 14. And it delivers exactly what the name suggests: 16 pages of mug shuts for criminals booked for everything from driving without a license to involuntary manslaughter. Some are listed as "most wanted" criminals, though its hard to see what they've done to deserve the title: along with serious offenses like homicide and rape are such relatively minor offenses as simple assault and "acccidents involving property damage."

"My intent was to put a face on local crime," says Shawn Kirkwod, the paper’s publisher. "Our intent is to educate the public about crime and help law enforcement deter crime."

The paper also features a "missing children" page, and a "registered sex offenders" gallery, whose photos you can also find at the Megan's Law website. It also boasts a sports trivia quiz (quick! Who beat Pitt in the 2007 NCAA tourney's Sweet 16 round?), an astrology column, and a word-search. (Try to find such terms as "possession," "disorderly," "harassment," and "suspicious.")

In addition, it features some content intended for those who'd like to keep their photos out of its pages. One column discusses myths about addiction and substance abuse, with a primer on the treatment available. 

The paper, which Kirkwod says is on sale at 160 stores througout the region, sells for $1. 

Media experts say publishing mugshots has become more common across the country. (The Beaver County Times, for one, publishes a weekly "Mug Shot Mondays" feature.) Most of the content, after all, is furnished at taxpayer expense. 

But as the practice becomes more widespread, so has criticism. 

Kelly McBride, a senior faculty member for ethics at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, says the papers are "pretty profitable and popular." But, she adds, "I don't think they're journalistic ... What they're selling is voyeurism."

And after all, most of the mugshots published only depict people accused of a crime -- not those who've been convicted.

Kirkwod, however, publishes a disclaimer -- "all suspsects are innocent until proven guilty" -- above each page of photos ... even those of convicted sex offenders. And Kirkwod says the publication helps create greater awareness of crime. "Is it unethical to inform people about local crime?"

Read more in next week's issue of City Paper.

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