Time Accuses Palm Beach Post of Online Pandering

If you're not Rush, do we need to see your mug?
If you're not Rush, do we need to see your mug?
Photo courtesy of the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office

In case you missed the 28 billion pounds of ink that have been spilled on the topic, daily newspapers are dying. And as they gasp and sputter on their breathing tubes, many are reaching desperately for something, anything that will allow them to live another day. The results are often not pretty.

Consider the booking blotter feature on the homepage of the Palm Beach Post. This wildly popular tool allows you to see the bloated, bruised, and often scowling mug shots of everyone that's booked into the Palm Beach County Jail. But it also signals the moral demise of the mainstream media, according to last week's Time magazine.

"It feeds societal prurience with no journalistic value," says Robert Steele, a journalism professor at DePauw University and an ethics specialist for the nonprofit Poynter Institute for Media Studies, which owns the St. Petersburg Times.

In layman's terms, the good professor is saying the Post has sold its soul for web clicks. (In June, the Post said the blotter was responsible for half the newspaper's 45 million page views). And perhaps it has. If you're not Heather Locklear or Rush Limbaugh, do you really deserve to have your DUI mug shot plastered across cyberspace? 


Yet bigwigs at the Post say they're just doing their job. In fact, they ran a front page story a few months ago, airing and responding to critics of the blotter.

"Newspapers have always run police blotters," said Tim Burke, executive editor of The Palm Beach Post. "The obvious difference with the online blotter is the sheer number of mug shots. But we're still telling readers (and now users) who broke the law. We still think arrests are of significant interest to the public."

Fine, but the public is also significantly interested in Kate Gosslin's hairdo, so where do you draw the line?

Truthfully, every local news outlet panders. Ever notice how many stories about porn stars and strippers appear on this blog?

The more important question is one of priorities. If the news is moving online, and mug shots and boobs are what sells, what incentive do news organizations have to pay for and publish real journalism? Who will investigate local politicians -- who by the way would love to have distracted citizens gaze at naked women instead of their campaign finance reports.

The Post has already laid-off hundreds of people, including most of the experienced, investigative reporters who once sent corrupt Palm Beach county commissioners to prison.

Now, the old journalism motto, "follow the money," has been turned on its head. Follow the money online, and it leads straight to the booking blotter.


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