Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Tampa Bay Mugshots

One of the blog prompts a few weeks ago was about the ethical nature of keeping an online database of sex offenders for the public to view. I was browsing around Poynter.org and their ethics section and discovered this gem of a discussion. Tampabay.com, a website of the local newspaper, The St. Petersburg Times, displays mug shots of people recently booked into jail by the local Sheriffs department. They have designed software that hourly draws information from the Sheriffs website, which is public information, and posts newly added arrests to the newspapers website. These mugshots scroll across the top of the page, along with stats on those arrested. This is a new take on the traditional sex offender database, which one has to actively seek out. This newspaper is displaying this information to all of those who may come across their website. The most interesting piece of this discussion was the future impact for those who's mug shots appeared on the site. In this era, when something goes on the Web, it is there to stay for a very long time. The chat discusses what ethical impacts this has on those who's pictures are feature on the site, and what happens if they are found not guilty of the crime they were charged with. It is a worthwhile read and very interactive. The link to the chat concerning the website is http://www.poynter.org/column.asp?id=101&aid=161525 and the actual website of the newspaper is http://mugshots.tampabay.com/


1 comment:

  1. Lots of ethics issues in this one, all of them worthy of a research paper. (I know a couple of you are still searching for a topic.)

    Some of the ones mentioned in the Poynter article are:

    Among the questions raised by journalists:

    * Is this journalism? Voyeurism? Entertainment? Infotainment?
    * Is it fair to highlight people who have been arrested but not been convicted of a crime? What if the charges are dropped or they're acquitted?
    * What are the legal implications of highlighting these people?
    * How does this compare to other databases, such as restaurant inspections or public employee salaries, that news sites post online?
    * In an age when things seem to live forever online, what impact could this have on people's digital identities?