The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel will no longer print mugshots of criminal suspects, multiple sources tell "The Dan O'Donnell Show." During a lengthy newsroom meeting Wednesday, the newspaper's senior editors announced a change in policy that was prompted by social justice concerns.
"Apparently they think that running mug shots perpetuates racial biases," said one source. "They don't want readers drawing racist inferences if they run mug shots of minority suspects.
Journal Sentinel editor George Stanley confirmed the change in policy in an email to "The Dan O'Donnell Show," but says the paper will still print mugshots in the case of well-known arrestees.
"We will carefully consider when and if we publish mug shots and will use them in rare cases when news demands it," he said. "We'll have conversations about when they are appropriate, and we'll find better ways to visually tell a crime story through a more thoughtful lens."
In 2018, Journal Sentinel owner Gannett removed all mugshot galleries from its websites and last June announced that it would remove such galleries from all sites owned by the former GateHouse Media. GateHouse Media acquired Gannett and took its name in early 2020.
"We have made an editorial decision to discontinue the publication of mugshot galleries, or mugshot photos that are not associated with a story or other editorial content, effective immediately," Gannett said in a statement posted on several newspaper websites. "Mugshot galleries presented without context may feed into negative stereotypes and, in our editorial judgment, are of limited news value."
Over the past few years, a number of news outlets have stopped printing mugshots in all but a few specific circumstances (such as when a mugshot would help authorities find a wanted suspect). The moves have largely been motivated by a fear of printing too many mugshots of minority criminal suspects.
“If the only faces you’re seeing are of Black and Latino people, it can create this illusion that most Black and Latino people are committing the crimes,” Stanford University professor Jennifer Eberhart told The New York Times last year.
"This is an effort to be more reflective of and about our readers and the neighborhoods they call home," Stanley said of the Journal Sentinel's change. "We want to improve the quality of our crime coverage with the certainty that we're going beyond police briefs that may have limited news value."
Stanley stressed, though, that the change was not just aimed at assuaging concerns over stereotyping, adding that Gannett does not want arrestees of all races to be stigmatized by published mugshots.
"Sometimes an arrest may be a big deal: Jeffrey Dahmer," he explained. "But often there is no conviction that follows, and the images live online forever, even when someone has been acquitted or charges are dropped. There are online vulture outfits that aggregate arrest photos and blotters, use search engine optimization to ensure they come up high if you search for a person’s name and then charge those people outrageous fees to take them down."
The Journal Sentinel has already implemented its new policy, as it ran a campaign picture of Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge Brett Blomme instead of Blomme's mugshot with a story about federal child pornography charges filed against Blomme Wednesday afternoon.
This would seem to run counter to Stanley's explanation of when an arrest would be "a big deal" that would prompt the Journal Sentinel to run a mugshot. Blomme is a well-known judge who was working in Children's Court when he was arrested, and he has been a darling of Milwaukee's Democratic Party for years.
A prior story about Blomme's arrest in March was accompanied by his mugshot.