Over the last few months, a new publication has appeared on racks around Pickens County. The one we have seen is called Just Busted, though one convenience store owner told us there is/was occasionally another called just plain Busted.
The tabloid publication costs $1, according to its cover, and contains nothing but a few ads and page after page of mug shots with the name of the person arrested and a one-line description of charges against them. Sometimes it also shows registered sex offenders in a similar manner.
According to the publication, it covers a large swath of North Georgia and Tennessee with sections divided by county.
A typical entry shows a mug shot, gives a name, and then some charge like “probation violation” or “theft by taking.” Sometimes the publication uses legalese that makes the crime hard to decipher. While everyone knows DUI, one person was arrested for VOP, another for FTA, and some were listed as weekenders or as being held for another county.
One unfortunate person in Pickens had his mug shot and name shown without charges. Maybe he didn’t do anything wrong, or maybe he was lucky the charge that landed him behind bars wasn’t listed. This one example is the essence of our objection to this type of publication: You don’t know why the person whose mug shot is plastered there is in jail.
The publication has several disclaimers throughout noting that all of those pictured should be considered innocent until proven guilty. The problem as we see it, however, is that everyone arrested gets grouped into one big photo spread. Nowhere does the publication indicate it would make any attempt to find out later if some of those pictured had, in fact, been found innocent or if charges against them were dropped before the case even came near to a court hearing.
Just Busted is well within its citizen rights to access the arrest bookings it publishes, but we believe Just Busted and many newspapers go too far in publishing the names of everyone arrested for everything. The Progress formerly published an “arrest blotter,” but after serious consideration, we dropped it.
As anyone who reads the Progress knows, we do publish stories on significant or out-of-the-ordinary crimes.
What we try to stress in our reporting is not who got arrested but what crimes have been committed. Information, such as the rash of metal thefts before Christmas or the fact prescription drug abuse has surpassed meth use here may offer information to protect our readers’ possessions or to alert them concerning the need to safeguard prescription bottles.
We do report in some stories who has been arrested, but we certainly do more in reporting than just collecting the weekly batch of mug shots and charges listed.
Without firsthand reporting, there is no opportunity for editorial discretion, no opportunity to filter out when there was a “domestic situation” that led to charges but really didn’t turn out to be much more than yelling and threats between two adult brothers, versus a case where someone savagely beat their spouse.
In straight blotter reports, both cases could appear as family violence charges, unfairly leaving readers to assume someone may have beaten his wife when an exchange of a few punches with his brother was nearer the truth.
Further, with most traditional newspapers, those arrested are given the opportunity to present their side of the story––usually through an attorney, but not always. Recently we ran a story about the resolution of a case involving a former president of a property owners association here. While we reported that the one arrested paid some restitution and saw the charges dropped, he took the opportunity to present his side of the case to the public. He got both a day in court (assuming pre-trial meetings count) and his proverbial 15 minutes in the media.
We have been asked why we don’t start blotter-style reporting here. Maybe we will again one day. Convenience stores say those arrest rags sell quickly. But while there is a thrill in seeing your neighbor’s mug shot in print, it’s hard to believe it serves much good.