The Mustang Daily has taken a lot of criticism in the past for publishing the mug shot photos of students who get arrested. There have been a number of examples this year alone, most when we ran the shots of the four Sigma Alpha Epsilon members showing off their pearly whites after being booked in the SLO County Jail. While this particular case is such a big one that doing anything but revealing to the full extent the suspects’ identities to other Cal Poly students and faculty would belittle our credibility, there are some cases where a mug shot can at first seem a little cruel.
I admit, my first gut reaction to seeing a student’s face plastered on the front page for things like drug possession makes me think of how bad I would feel if it were my face. These are, after all, photos of people at their worst and a photo makes it easier for the story to follow a student around for life. I have actually raised these concerns once in the newsroom and clearly some other students feel the same way.
Aside from the SAE fellows from the story we ran, there were the booking photos of Vigneshwaran Ramar and Wilson Lau, the Poly students charged with possession of ecstasy for sale that we ran back in April. Some may also remember John Goetz, the nutrition major arrested for felony assault after allegedly knocking out two guys downtown also in April. We ran the mug shots on the front page.
As I think about it deeper, I find it hard to legitimize not running the photos. Major papers do it all the time and the Tribune will run booking photos of anybody over 18 arrested for a crime, if it’s relevant. The Mustang Daily is a publication that seeks to inform Cal Poly students and faculty about issues that may pertain to them. If we are going to reveal their names, which I think we can all agree is newsworthy, why would we not clarify with a photo. Just saying ‘John Smith’ with a year and major is often not enough.
Furthermore, why should we, the media, protect their identities? These are suspected criminals and if we are presented with these photos, what reason do we have not to run the shots other than ‘How would it make me feel?’-style guilt? A long chat with a good friend on this subject recently sold me on this. His argument basically boiled down to ‘Don’t do the crime if you don’t want your shit aired out to everyone.’ God help me, I could not counter this other than point out that they have not yet been convicted. Last I checked, my friend said, conviction is not a prerequisite for revealing a suspect’s identity. And you know what? He’s absolutely right.
So everyone keep in mind that by partaking in illegal acts all of your mugs may very well be plastered on the front page of the Daily the next day. I will do the same.