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The blogosphere is buzzing about The Gazette and KCRG-TV9 coverage of the arrests of three University of Iowa wrestlers and four men arrested for similar crimes in Coralville the same day.
Specifically, about the photos that initially ran with the articles, written separately, concerning the two arrests.
At first, online versions of the stories included team pictures of the three white wrestlers, posed, poised and wearing collared shirts and ties, but police mug shots of the four men, who were black, arrested for the Coralville crimes. The side-by-side comparison of the pictures highlight stark differences and have led some to accuse us of biased reporting.
The facts are less dramatic: the difference was the result of police procedure and newsroom policies - which we will be reviewing in the coming weeks.
Our policy has been for reporters and editors to use the best available picture of a suspect when reporting a crime, while always requesting mug shots. Once mug shots are available, those pictures are added to the article.
Pictures are the best way to identify suspects in a crime, eliminate confusion with another person with the same name and, in some cases, potentially identify other victims who recognize a suspect.
The Johnson County Jail posts mug shots of suspects in custody on its website. That process allowed us to quickly obtain the photographs of the Coralville suspects when the crime was first reported.
The Linn County Sheriff's Office, however, requires news outlets file a formal request before it will release mug shots. We submitted a request for mug shots of the Hawkeye wrestlers when the article was first written, but did not receive a response from the jail until after 8 p.m. Those delays are not uncommon as jail staff often must attend to many pressing issues. In this case, one of the wrestlers did not have a mug shot taken because he was issued a citation, which is a type of arrest, and not formally booked at the jail.
The wrestlers' positions on the University of Iowa roster gave us immediate access to a recent team photograph of the men. We used these in lieu of mug shots, which we have done in reporting other arrests of college athletes. Once mug shots were made available to us, we added those images to the article that same day.
Our thought was to not use any photos of the wrestlers while we waited for mug shots would have been unfair treatment to other suspects who are pictured in crime reporting.
Our policy is focused on getting the best images and information to the public in a timely manner. Race is never a factor.
Much of the reporting by bloggers on this topic has been void of context and done without reaching out to us for comment. This case is a reminder to us, as journalists, and to readers to always seek out that context and not blindly trust one side of a story.
As it is a reminder of the power of images in our news accounts in The Gazette, on KCRG-TV9 and online. That's something we'll be discussing in great depth internally, in these pages and in our communities over the coming weeks.