Flap Over Police Mug Shots Illustrates America’s Race Problem

The Gazette, Cedar Rapids Screenshot

Should Media Use Mug Shots as the "Best Available Photo"?

Stories on websites and blogs portray it as a cut-and-dried case of journalistic racism. "These 2 sets of pictures are everything you need to know about race, crime, and media bias," read the headline Wednesday on vox.com.

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Two sets of suspects are depicted from the same news organization. Black ones are in their jail mug shots, and their white counterparts are wearing coats and ties.

The news executives involved tell a different story about how the shots came to be published, and one says that two very real issues aren't being discussed at all — whether mug shots taken at a booking are a fair way to portray criminal suspects and when they should be used.

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"The use of these head shots is a discussion that should be had across media," Zack Kucharski, executive editor of the Gazette in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, told Journal-isms by telephone on Friday.

Kucharski said he had been spending much of his time Friday and earlier dealing with the fallout from the depiction in his paper and in other local media of the two sets of suspects who were arrested on March 23.

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The depictions come after a long history of unfair media portrayals of people of color and crime.

Some still point to the photos from Hurricane Katrina that describe black people as "looting" but white people as "finding," even though the captions came from different news organizations with different criteria for their word choices.

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Less than two weeks ago, a survey from Media Matters for America found that four major broadcast television stations in New York continue to give disproportionate coverage to crime stories involving African American suspects.

In the Iowa case, four black men were held in connection with a burglary investigation in Coralville, as Lee Hermiston reported March 23 for the Gazette. Their jail mug shots were published.

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Meanwhile, in a different county, three white University of Iowa wrestlers were arrested in Marion on alcohol-related charges. They "had in their possession items, including clothing and a briefcase, that are believed to have been taken during several burglaries," according to the original story, also written by Hermiston in the Gazette. But these suspects were shown in coats and ties.

The blogosphere pounced. Raw Story headlined its report, "Charged with same crime, Iowa paper shows black suspects' mug shots but whites get yearbook pics." Mic.com posted, "These Two Sets of Crime Photos Represent A Serious Problem in News."

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The accusations became so viral that Kucharski and Adam Carros, news director for KCRG-TV, wrote a joint column Friday in the Gazette to explain.

"Much of the reporting by bloggers on this topic has been void of context and done without reaching out to us for comment," they wrote. "This case is a reminder to us, as journalists, and to readers to always seek out that context and not blindly trust one side of a story. . . ."

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They explained, "Our policy has been for reporters and editors to use the best available picture of a suspect when reporting a crime, while always requesting mug shots. Once mug shots are available, those pictures are added to the article.

"Pictures are the best way to identify suspects in a crime, eliminate confusion with another person with the same name and, in some cases, potentially identify other victims who recognize a suspect.

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"The Johnson County Jail posts mug shots of suspects in custody on its website. That process allowed us to quickly obtain the photographs of the Coralville suspects when the crime was first reported.

"The Linn County Sheriff's Office, however, requires [that] news outlets  file a formal request before it will release mug shots. We submitted a request for mug shots of the Hawkeye wrestlers when the article was first written, but did not receive a response from the jail until after 8 p.m. Those delays are not uncommon as jail staff often must attend to many pressing issues. In this case, one of the wrestlers did not have a mug shot taken because he was issued a citation, which is a type of arrest, and not formally booked at the jail.

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"The wrestlers' positions on the University of Iowa roster gave us immediate access to a recent team photograph of the men [wearing coats and ties]. We used these in lieu of mug shots, which we have done in reporting other arrests of college athletes. Once mug shots were made available to us, we added those images to the article that same day. . . ."

A computer malfunction compounded the issue, Kucharski said. Although the coat-and-tie photos were replaced by mug shots of the white suspects, he said, a computer glitch reinstated the earlier coat-and-tie photos for perhaps four days before anyone noticed.

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Kucharski and Carros said separately by telephone that they are reviewing their policies of publishing mug shots as "the best available photo" and plan to meet Wednesday with community leaders. One is a public official who had been depicted in a jail outfit when she was arrested in a domestic violence dispute. When the charges were dropped, the Gazette published the same jail mug shot. "We should not have used that," Kucharski said.

In another case, Kyle Russell Orth, a car salesman who is white, was shot and injured by police March 29 after a brief chase. Although Orth was not arrested, the Gazette used a jail mug shot from a previous arrest. Orth complained, and the Gazette used a photo that Orth provided for the next day's follow-up story.

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"I expect we're going to make changes" in the mug shot policy, Kucharski said. "The lesson for us is to have this conversation. I'm asking folks, 'What would you like (as a policy).' We're going to be completely transparent and publish what our policy is. We're going to seek out guest editorials and get as much dialogue on this issue as we can.

"It strikes nerves, and justifiably so."

Jenice Armstrong, Philadelphia Daily News: Black celebs who deny racism exists are out of touch (March 27)

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Brian C. Bush, theGrio.com: The 'new black' won’t save you from old-fashioned racism

Gene Demby, NPR "Code Switch": The Fear Of Black Men In America: How It Feels To Be A Problem

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Taylor Gordon, atlantablackstar.com: 8 Common Practices That Will Never Solve Racism

Frederick H. Lowe, northstarnewstoday.com: A Day in the Life of Black Men: Microaggressions, a Subtle Form of Racism

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Frederick H. Lowe, northstarnewstoday.com: Police Shot to Death 115 People in March, Most of them Black Men

Native Paper Tired of TV Newscast "Perp Walk" Shots (April 19, 2012)

Nick Wing, HuffPost BlackVoices: When The Media Treats White Suspects And Killers Better Than Black Victims (Aug. 14, 2014)

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When Selena Died in 1995, Newsroom Diversity Mattered

The 20th anniversary of the death of Selena Quintanilla-Perez, known simply as Selena, prompted Juan Castillo to recall the night that claimed the Tejano singer, when he was an assistant editor on the metro desk at the Austin American-Statesman.

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Castillo remembered the first news reports that Selena had been shot and suffered life-threatening wounds, and "how Selena could be such a superstar to so many, yet simultaneously unknown to much of America."

In a piece republished on alldigitocracy.org, Castillo wrote Tuesday on jCastillo.me, "Almost immediately, the newspaper's Life and Entertainment editor approached the Metro Desk and asked if we could take the reins on covering the story because, he said, there was no one on his staff qualified to write about Tejano music and Selena.

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"In other words, the entertainment staff rarely if ever wrote about Tejano music. How could that be, I wondered. How in the so-called live music capital of the world could you not have a music writer conversant enough in Tejano to write about its biggest star with the understanding and attention it deserved? Why was Tejano relegated to subculture status?

"It was one of those instances where as a journalist of color, you quickly realize that what can be so profoundly meaningful to one as a Mexican American can be viewed as not worthy — 'foreign in her own country' — by the mainstream.

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"The entertainment staff went home. And because I did understand Selena's importance, I was appointed the lead editor on the story. And because she too understood, Suzanne Gamboa, one of the newspaper's state reporters, was dispatched to Corpus Christi to cover the story. I still marvel at how Suzanne was able to get there so quickly.

"The moment she arrived at the hospital where Selena had been taken and where a large, sorrowful crowd had gathered, Suzanne and I kept in touch almost constantly by phone.

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"I could hear the distraught crowd's restlessness. Suzanne breathlessly dictated notes from the scene and quotes from interviews with Selena's fans. I typed them and weaved them into the story I was culling together, using copy from the Associated Press and our own reporting. Two journalists trying to beat a fast-approaching deadline, attempting at least for the moment to put the emotion of the tragic events aside. . . .

. . . Selena's Death Helped Launch People en Español

The death of Selena and the recognition of her importance by Latino employees at Time Inc. prompted the launch of People en Español, according to Norman Pearlstine, who spoke with Journal-isms in 2005 when he was Time Inc. editor-in-chief.

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The company calls People en Español the largest-selling Spanish-language magazine in America.

"That publication was launched on a test basis in 1997, a result of the March 31, 1995, killing of the Tejano singer Selena in Corpus Christi, Texas, by the former head of her fan club," this column reported a decade ago.

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"Most Time Inc. employees didn't know who Selena was, much less the extent of her following, but Latino employees suggested she be put on the cover of the Southwest and Texas editions of People. The issue 'sold spectacularly,' Pearlstine said. More important, however, was the role of Latino employees in expanding Time Inc.'s horizons. . . ."

Leila Cobo, Billboard: Remembering Selena: 11 Key Moments

Katia Hetter, CNN: Selena: 20 years after her death

Soraya Nadia McDonald, Washington Post: Selena died 20 years ago today. Here's why we're still talking about her mark on American culture.

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Christina Saenz-Alcántara, Latino Rebels: The Global Legacy of Selena Quintanilla-Pérez 

Seattle Sports Columnist Brewer Joining Washington Post

Jerry Brewer, a sports columnist for the Seattle Times since 2006, is joining the Washington Post in the same role, Brewer told his social-media followers on Friday.

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"It's bittersweet because I love Seattle and The Seattle Times so much," Brewer tweeted. "I met my wife (@nwfoodette), a Husky, here. Miles was born here. Only 3 places in my life have felt like home: Paducah, Ky., Portland, Tenn., and now Seattle. Thank you all for the past 8 1/2 years."

Brewer added, "I've still got another month of columns in Seattle, so we still have some sports debates left. Writing for The Times until early May."

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Brewer's hiring means the Post will again have an African American perspective among its sports columnists. Jason Reid, named in 2011 succeed Michael Wilbon, left the newspaper in February to host a morning talk show on ESPN radio in Washington and write for ESPN.com.

Don Shelton, Seattle Times sports editor, told Journal-isms by telephone that he considered Brewer, who joined the Times from the Courier-Journal in Louisville, "a great columnist and an equally great person. He brought a lot to this paper. From his very first column, he exceeded our expectations."

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Shelton recalled that Brewer established a conversation with readers and recognized "that you're writing for an audience, that the audience has opinions and questions." Most memorably, Brewer wrote "Gloria's Miracle," a 2009 book about the young daughter of a basketball coach who had cancer. It originated as a column idea that Shelton presented to Brewer and columnist Steve Kelley. Brewer won a coin toss for who would write it.

Seattle's Third Place Books says on its website, "Seattle Times sports columnist Jerry Brewer's moving story of a Seattle girl and her family fighting cancer with faith and hope moved him to re-evaluate himself, as well. His book is about family, community, choices, and, especially, love."

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Shelton said he expected to advertise for Brewer's position, which requires writing one or two enterprise stories a month in addition to the column.

Jerry Brewer, Seattle Times: Mariners still need their youth to get over the hump

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Nearly 90 Percent of Baseball Announcers Still White Men

"There was a time when 90 percent of baseball players were white — but that was 1955," Ted Hesson wrote Friday for Fusion.

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"Now, more than one in three players are Hispanic, African American or Asian, according to data from the Society for American Baseball Research."

However, Hesson wrote, "Nearly 90 percent of local TV announcers are white men, according to a team-by-team analysis by Fusion. . . ."

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Why?

"There are only about 125 jobs for in-booth, MLB television announcers and not much turnover. So it's a tough gig to get to begin with — something that may be keeping women and minorities from pursuing the career in the first place.

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"John Nicholson is the director of the Sports Media Center at Syracuse University's Newhouse School, one of the country's top journalism programs.

"He's seen some first-rate sports broadcasters come through the program, including Robert Ford, the play-by-play radio announcer for the Houston Astros. Ford is one of a few African Americans to work as an MLB play-by-play announcer, in either radio or television.

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"In the school's informal sports track, however, Ford was the exception, not the norm.

" 'I would say the great majority of people coming through who are interested in sports are white males,' Nicholson said. 'We have every year a few females and a few black and Hispanic males, but it's a very small percentage at this point.' "

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Hesson also wrote, "There's the scarcity of jobs and low turnover. And the reality that becoming an announcer can mean years of working for minor league teams for relatively low pay.

" 'It's not a matter of guys don't make it because they are any particular race and ethnicity, guys don't make it because of how hard it is,' " he said.

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"But there are greater impediments that keep people of color and women out of the broadcast booth. The status quo has long favored white and male announcers and will likely continue to do the same for years to come without proactive steps to be inclusive. . . ."

IRE Honors Joint Effort on "The Real Death Valley"

"The Weather Channel has been awarded one of journalism's most prestigious investigative reporting awards," Al Tompkins reported Friday for the Poynter Institute.

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"The Investigate Reporters and Editors awarded its top investigative reporting prizes to The Weather Channel, Spanish language channel Telemundo and an alt-weekly, Willamette Week. It's hardly the usual roster of winners of one of journalism's most coveted awards.

"Two other top awards went to combined efforts by newspapers and TV stations who pooled resources. Another winner is a non-profit investigative center. National Public Radio, working with a respected publication that covers coal mine safety, also won.

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"The Weather Channel, Telemundo and the Investigative Fund produced an investigation called 'The Real Death Valley.' The documentary looks at Brooks County, Texas, an area 70 miles north of the Rio Grande. There is a border patrol station there that immigrants who are trying to enter America illegally try to avoid.

"So they travel 40 miles through blistering heat. About every other day, one of the immigrants dies in that one country during the hottest months of the year. And, the investigation found, when they call for help, the help may take hours, if it arrives at all. . . ."

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Tompkins also wrote, "Reporter John Carlos Frey said last year, officials said they found 81 bodies along the trails the immigrants use. The investigation found, 'Since 2009, the remains of over four hundred migrants have been recovered in the county.' . . ."

In New York, Imhotep Gary Byrd Loses a Radio Show

Imhotep Gary Byrd, who hosts the longest-running black radio program in New York city and state, "The Global Black Experience,” told listeners on Sunday that his long-running program "GBE Mind Flight," which aired Sunday on WLIB-AM from 9 p.m. to midnight, was cancelled due to "budget cuts."

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A reader told Journal-isms, "The GBE [Mind Flight] was one of the only radio programs that included weekly segments that was an intelligent analysis of the Obama Administration called The Obama Watch (with panelists Milton [Allimadi], Cash Michaels, and others), and also reportage about the Caribbean and Africa."

Byrd also announced that his other Sunday night program, "Express Yourself," which airs on WBLS-FM from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., will be simulcast on WBLS' sister station WLIB.

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Byrd said Friday in an emailed statement to Journal-isms, "I am frankly disappointed about the cancellation of the 'GBE Mind Flight' show on WLIB, especially for the community we served. I feel very proud of the level of broadcasting my colleagues and I were able to bring to the airwaves of WLIB in New York City and the Tri State. I am thankful for the opportunity provided to develop the format by WLIB management over the years and very thankful to our community for its support of the GBE broadcast.

"I am definitely excited about the simulcast possibilities of 'I-GBE: Imhotep Gary Byrd's Express Yourself' on WBLS & WLIB and the unprecedented multiple platforms we will be presented on which include: (WLIB.com-WBLS.com-WBLS-HD2 and iHeart radio)

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"The loss of the WLIB airtime means that I have to do even more with less, but isn't that a familiar situation for us as a people and community? So, on my WBLS_WLIB show, I will create a programming approach designed to overcome the time challenge for the community and myself. I am also very sure that 'GBE Mind Flight' will fly again. Stay tuned."

Deon Levingston, senior vice president and market manager of Emmis Communications, which acquired WBLS and WLIB in 2014, did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

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HHS Sets Up Media Call Tuesday on Minority Health

The federal government's Office of Minority Health has scheduled a conference call for national and local media at 3 p.m. Eastern time Tuesday about National Minority Health Month.

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As Lecia Bushak wrote last year for medicaldaily.com, "Minorities in the U.S. are more likely than non-Hispanic white people to develop preventable chronic diseases: African Americans, American Indians, and Alaska Natives are twice as likely to have diabetes than whites. Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, meanwhile, are three times more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes. . . ."

Journalists may contact the office at <omh (at) cms.hhs.gov> or <OMHMedia (at) hhs.gov>.

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Native Health News Alliance: Colorectal Cancer Affects American Indians at Significantly Higher Rate (March 6)

Office of Minority Health: National Minority Health Month

Nominate a J-Educator Who Has Helped Diversity

The Association of Opinion Journalists, formerly the National Conference of Editorial Writers, annually grants a Barry Bingham Sr. Fellowship — actually an award — "in recognition of an educator's outstanding efforts to encourage minority students in the field of journalism." The educator should be at the college level.

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Nominations, now being accepted for the 2015 award, should consist of a statement about why you believe your nominee is deserving.

The final selection will be made by the AOJ Foundation board and announced in time for the annual symposium Nov.14-15, when the presentation will be made.

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Since 2000, the recipient has been awarded an honorarium of $1,000 to be used to "further work in progress or begin a new project."

Past winners include James Hawkins, Florida A&M University (1990); Larry Kaggwa, Howard University (1992); Ben Holman, University of Maryland (1996); Linda Jones, Roosevelt University, Chicago (1998); Ramon Chavez, University of Colorado, Boulder (1999); Erna Smith, San Francisco State (2000); Joseph Selden, Penn State (2001); Cheryl Smith, Paul Quinn College (2002); Rose Richard, Marquette University (2003); Leara D. Rhodes, University of Georgia (2004); Denny McAuliffe, University of Montana (2005); Pearl Stewart, Black College Wire (2006); Valerie White, Florida A&M University (2007); Phillip Dixon, Howard University (2008); Bruce DePyssler, North Carolina Central University (2009); Sree Sreenivasan, Columbia University (2010); Yvonne Latty, New York University (2011); Michelle Johnson, Boston University (2012); Vanessa Shelton, University of Iowa (2013); and William Drummond, University of California at Berkeley (2104).

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Nominations may be emailed to Richard Prince, AOJ Diversity Committee chair, richardprince (at) hotmail.com. The deadline is May 22. Please use that address only for AOJ matters.

Short Takes

"When asked Thursday what he would do first as the new dean of MU's School of Journalism, David Kurpius talked about the need to improve racial, ethnic and gender diversity," Cody Mroczka and William Schmitt reported for the Columbia Missourian, referring to the University of Missouri at Columbia.

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The National Society of Newspaper Columnists will hold its 2015 conference June 25-28 in Indianapolis, President Jerry Zezima reaffirmed on Thursday. "I have heard from quite a few of you about Indiana's new Religious Freedom Restoration Act and what steps we should take, if any, in response to a law many people see as discriminatory," Zezima wrote to the membership. Urging members to see for themselves and report on what they find, Zezima concluded, "You can't shine a light on something from a distance."

"Hundreds of fishermen raced to be rescued Friday from the isolated Indonesian island where an Associated Press investigation found that many were enslaved to catch seafood that could end up in the United States and elsewhere," Robin McDowell and Margie Mason reported Friday in the morning version of their Associated Press story. "Indonesian officials probing labor abuses told the migrant workers they were allowing them to leave for another island by boat out of concern for their safety. More than 300 fishermen emerged from nearby trawlers, villages and even the jungle to make the trip. . . ."

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"Cosmopolitan has been heavily criticised over its choice of models in an online article about beauty trends in 2015," Rossalyn Warren reported Thursday for BuzzFeed. "The online version of the magazine compared 'gorgeous' fashion and beauty trends with those that needed to 'die.' For the 21 trends that were 'gorgeous', every single photo used was of a white woman, apart from Nicole Richie who is bi-racial. For the trends that needed to 'die', almost a fifth were illustrated with a woman of colour. . . ." A Cosmo editor replied to critics, "This article focuses on beauty trends with images that represent those trends. Some images have been taken out of context, and we apologize for any offense. Celebrating all women is our mission, and we will continue to work hard to do that."

"Two journalists, Ahmed Idris and Ali Mustapha, working for foreign news channel, Al-Jazeera, have sued the Nigerian army and its chief, Kenneth Minimah, for trampling on their fundamental rights," Nnenna Ibeh reported Thursday for Nigeria's Premium Times. "Messrs. Idris and Mustapha — reporter and cameraman respectively of the news television — were arrested on March 24 in their hotel room in Maiduguri, Borno State for 'loitering' in areas [where] combat operations were still on-going. . . ."

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Prison journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal is back behind bars after being hospitalized this week for treatment of diabetes, Laura McCrystal reported Saturday for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Abu-Jamal supporter Noelle Hanrahan said in a mass email Thursday, "At 7pm last night, Mumia Abu-Jamal was transferred back to the infirmary at SCI Mahanoy — the same prison infirmary that failed to identify his diabetes, gravely misdiagnosed him, and gave him severely detrimental treatment. This is an outrage!"

"On March 20, Nebraska State Sen. Ernie Chambers compared police to ISIS terrorists in a legislative committee hearing on a concealed-carry gun bill, one that would allow residents to carry hidden firearms into establishments that serve alcohol and allow off-duty police to carry their weapons when attending events on school grounds," Deron Lee wrote Thursday for Columbia Journalism Review. " 'The police are licensed to kill us, children, old people,' said Chambers, 77, one of two African Americans in the state's unicameral legislature. . . . The mainstream Nebraska press ignored Chambers' comments, as had fellow senators attending the hearing. . . ." Nebraska Watchdog.

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"The Oglala Sioux Tribal Council has approved a resolution requesting that Pine Ridge Indian Reservation businesses halt sales of the Rapid City [S.D.] Journal," Stephanie Woodard reported Tuesday for the Indian Country Today Media Network. She also wrote, "The Associated Press article on the council's February 24 resolution — and the newspapers, TV and radio stations and blogs that picked it up — described the action as a 'ban.' As word spread, so did accusations that the council had trampled on freedom of the press and the First Amendment. Not so, said leading Indian-law expert Carole E. Goldberg, professor of law and vice chancellor at UCLA. 'I have read the resolution carefully. It does not bar sales of the newspaper. It merely supports a "request" by an entity of the Tribe that reservation businesses not sell the paper.' . . ."

Sharon Farmer, who under President Bill Clinton became the first woman and the first African American to become White House photographer, was profiled Tuesday in the American Prospect. "Her ability to move in predominantly white male circles, especially during the '70s, '80s, and '90s, is impressive," Nathalie Baptiste wrote. " 'Figure out who isn't racist or ugly,' Farmer tells me, and stick with them. And she has some last bits of advice for a young woman reporter of color. 'The media is changing. Don't tell people your ideas, so they don't get stolen.' And most importantly, 'Get a mentor.' "

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"A student newspaper at the University of Virginia apologized for an April Fool's edition that contained a story that made light of a recent race-related incident by drawing a comparison to the forced removal of Native Americans," indianz.com reported on Thursday. "The story titled 'ABC officers tackle Native American student outside Bodo's Bagels' came just a couple of weeks after an African-American student was injured during a scuffle with state alcohol agents near the UVA campus in Charlottesville. The article included quotes from students with invented 'Native' surnames and called the affair the 'Trail of Schmears' in reference to the Trail of Tears. . . ."

"A prominent Malaysian political cartoonist says he is being charged with sedition, becoming the latest government critic targeted by authorities in Kuala Lumpur," William Gallo reported Thursday for the Voice of America. "Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, known as Zunar, told VOA he would appear in court Friday to face nine charges under Malaysia's Sedition Act, which has been increasingly used to jail dissenters. . . ."

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