As regular Glean readers may have surmised, I’m not a big spot-crime guy. While a tale of human depravity will occasionally suck me in, I generally don’t care unless there’s a serial offender coming after me.
But I have to admit I’m absolutely absorbed by Tampa Bay Mug Shots, which provides a rolling five-photo display of the area’s most recently arrested.
Because ethicists rip the practice, it qualifies as a guilty pleasure, even if those shown haven’t been convicted of anything. I’m sympathetic to U New Media Studies Director Nora Paul’s complaint in the L.A. Times — that journalism is about providing context and the site (which is fully automated) doesn’t — but I don’t agree.
This stuff is public info, and — voyeuristic though it may be — TBMS is doing exactly what media outlets should do in the Internet Age: repurposing public info for better consumption. The site also provides links to police reports, as well as overall demographic data — height, weight, age, gender, location, and eye color, though not race — which makes for an entertaining sideshow.
The site does contain an “innocent before guilty” disclaimer, which should be more prominent, and I’d include whatever the latest research showed on racial disparities for arrests. The site does feature links to newspaper crime stories and purges arrestee info after 60 days. As evidence of its own ethical qualms, TBMS doesn’t let search engines crawl the site.
(On some level, it’s delicious that this is the work of the St. Petersburg Times, which is owned by a nonprofit foundation that also sponsors the high-minded Poynter Institute. The Times is also responsible for the critically acclaimed Polifact.com fact-checking blog.)
The Times reports TBMS got 100,000 hits in its first three hours after its April 6 launch. That’s traffic the locals would crave. Given its preoccupation with stem-winding miscreants, the Pioneer Press is a perfect local perch for this concept, though I expect TV stations are champing at the bit, too. And of course, there’s nothing stopping an online-only site from getting there first, though I highly doubt it will be this one.
[Hat tip: @agcummins.]