A crime paper flourishes by printing mug shots
Isaac Cornetti, aka ‘Dash Dangerfield,’ finds an audience for ‘The Slammer’ in North Carolina – a publication that some think provides a public service but others call an unethical crime rag.
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“Oh, Monique,” the text goes, “Aren’t you feeling weak? So upset you can hardly speak? Knightdale Police done punched your card. Now from walking you’ll be ‘tard’ [tired]. Left-right-left-right.”Skip to next paragraph
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Shakespeare it’s not. But to fans of such tabloids, like St. Petersburg, Fla., resident Courtney Doerr, a regular reader of Cellmates, they’re “street poetry.” And The Slammer runs more sober pieces, too: A recent editorial came down against the death penalty.
Even some police officials see little difference between the role of The Slammer and those of more prestigious media outlets. These modern crime rags “may well be reaching some readers that the daily circulation papers don’t on a regular basis,” says Jim Sughrue, a spokesman for the Raleigh Police Department. “I would say there’s a value to these publications.”
But critics say ridiculing people who remain innocent in the eyes of the Constitution is the definition of unethical. “They’re basically creating a miniature billboard in which these individuals are named and visually identified, often pejoratively, in a way that does not give them a fair hearing,” says Mr. Steele at Poynter.
But Randall Brown has a different take. An avid reader of Cellmates, Mr. Brown is also a regular feature: He claims he’s been in Cellmates 10 times, all for misdemeanor alcohol violations, and he doesn’t mind the publicity. In his view, all of us are just a banana peel-slip away from arrest. “Everybody makes mistakes – the Bible says so,” he says. “People love to gossip.”
That love of gossip and the longing to know – drives older than newsprint itself – may be Cornetti’s most reliable sales force. Philip Isley, a lawyer and Raleigh city councilor, likens The Slammer to “our own little ‘Entertainment Tonight’ weekly.”
“Clearly, there’s a morbid desire for people to know exactly what’s going on criminally in the community,” he says, suggesting that awareness “can have a great deterrent effect, notwithstanding the thrillseekers who enjoy seeing their mug shot in print.”
Back at the Raleigh Times restaurant, where Cornetti is a minor celebrity, one group of barstool readers is trying to determine if a friend’s boyfriend, who supposedly got arrested recently, is in the paper. Cornetti gets up for a few minutes and returns to the table. He nods back toward the server, who had eagerly grabbed The Slammer when he came in. “She just told me she was in it in May,” he says.
Apparently, she harbored no hard feelings.