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Why we shut down the 'Mugshots' page

Posted: 6:00 AM, May 23, 2019
Updated: 2019-05-23 09:06:34-04
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Beginning today, May 23, you’ll no longer find the Leon County Sheriff’s Office booking report published on WTXL.com. This was not a rushed decision, but one we’ve come to after much thought and consideration.

The booking report was a mainstay on our website for years. For much of that time, it had its own section titled “Mugshots,” and was usually in our top-5 most visited pages on the website. Inside each report was a mugshot of every person who was booked into the county jail the day before, his or her charge(s), and the date he or she was released.

Each report is a snapshot frozen in time – one day in the life of the jail -- from those accused of violent crimes to those caught with a fake ID.

Our newsroom leaders estimate that two to three times per week, a person will contact us asking to have the report from his or her day of arrest removed. The reasons are often similar – the charges were dropped, reduced or expunged from the person’s record.

These calls rarely come from those who’ve committed serious crimes, but more often they come from people who made a bad decision that resulted in one night in handcuffs. These folks worry one bad decision will rob them of a future job or admission to college.

Our standard reply had been based in the journalistic standard that’s endured for decades: we don’t change anything that’s true. While those standards often worked in the pre-Google era, we live in a much different world now. It is a world where a dumb mistake as a 20-year-old can follow you for the rest of your life.

So we had to consider:

Are arrests for minor crimes newsworthy? Does publishing these booking reports make our community a better place? Are we simply pandering to lurid curiosity? Are we ruining people’s lives or shaming people in our community for minor mistakes?

These are just some of the questions we’ve been asking of one another and community stakeholders.

The conclusion we arrived at is this: The booking reports only offer a small slice of a story, and we should no longer publish them because:

- We are not providing further context.
- We are not updating the stories when the facts evolve.
- We are pandering to lurid curiosity – that same desire that triggers rubbernecking at crash scenes.
- We are not showing compassion for those who are affected by news coverage.

As journalists covering news in the Florida panhandle and southern Georgia, we can do better in meeting our code of ethics and your expectations for news. Our commitment to you is to tell stories that go beyond the irrelevant and isolated stories on the crime beat, and instead focus on stories that give you a true sense of your community through context, perspective and impact. We will still cover significant and impactful crimes in your community. We will still publish stories with mugshots of persons wanted or arrested for noteworthy or impactful crimes in your community.

We are not hiding or suppressing public information. While you won’t find the Leon County booking report on our website, the last 30 days of booking reports are easily accessible on the sheriff’s website.

We hope that this decision helps make our community a better place.

We welcome your feedback. You can reach me at matt.brown@wtxl.tv