GUY RAZ, HOST:
All crime, all the time - that's the tagline of The Slammer. It's a weekly newspaper found in convenience stores across several states these days. It's part of a new genre of tabloid, not much more than a compendium of mug shots that lets readers keep up with who's been arrested every week. NPR's Debbie Elliott traveled to Little Rock, Arkansas, to get behind the scenes of one of these papers.
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, BYLINE: With titles like Cellmates, Jailbirds, Just Busted, Jail House Rocs and The Slammer, it's clear what you'll find inside.
DANIEL SCHROEDER: Modern-day stockades, I guess, or stocks is one way to look at it.
ELLIOTT: Daniel Schroeder is the publisher for The Slammer, which covers central Arkansas.
SCHROEDER: The crazier the mug shot, or the meaner-looking the people are, the more likely they are to end up on the cover.
ELLIOTT: In the predawn hours at a nondescript self-storage unit, Schroeder loads stacks of his tabloid into the car trunks of his drivers.
SCHROEDER: Sixteen total, plus he needs another 16 papers because of the odd bundle.
ELLIOTT: They'll fan out over Little Rock and the surrounding counties, taking papers to some 300 gas marts and convenience stores.
(SOUNDBITE OF CAR STARTING)
ELLIOTT: Like the other papers that have been growing in popularity around the South, the paper follows a template: page after page of local mug shots, interspersed with a few short crime articles from around the country. The advertisements are mostly for cash-advance outlets, bail bondsmen and defense attorneys. Schroeder explains how the mug shots are grouped under kitsch headlines.
SCHROEDER: This is the Wrinkly Rascal section, which is people a bit older that have been arrested. You wouldn't expect to see them in there; they can be sweet-looking grandmas and grandpas sometimes. One of my favorites - and a lot of people like - is the Hair Dos and Don'ts. People are not always at their best when they get arrested. So...
CHARLES WILKES: Face forward, Omar. Yeah, there you go.
ELLIOTT: At the Pulaski County jail, Deputy Charles Wilkes does intake.
WILKES: All right, turn right towards the filing cabinet.
ELLIOTT: Wilkes snaps the photos of inmates that eventually end up in the tabloid.
WILKES: You know, they know about The Slammer. Sometimes they think it's kind of funny; like, hey, I'm posing for The Slammer. And some people are like, I'm pretty upset because I might lose my job.
ELLIOTT: Publisher Daniel Schroeder admits it's a sense of voyeurism that sells the papers, but he claims they also help law enforcement.
SCHROEDER: Most people look at this because they're curious, and they want to gawk and gossip a little bit. But there's a good side to it, too, that provides people with an opportunity to see, maybe, somebody that they know has committed a crime. Or somebody might be a victim of a crime, is able to see the person that committed the crime if they hadn't been caught already.
ELLIOTT: But Pulaski County Sheriff Doc Holladay says publishing pictures of people who have already been arrested doesn't solve crimes.
DOC HOLLADAY: I'm not sure that we've seen a great upside for us, other than people call us and complain about their picture being there.
ELLIOTT: Sheriff Holladay - and yes, that's his real name - says it just creates more work for his deputies. At first, he resisted providing the county's mug shots to The Slammer, but says he had no choice because of sunshine laws.
HOLLADAY: People call, and they want to know why we're releasing that information, or why their picture's in the magazine. Well, that information is public record; it's releasable under the Freedom of Information Act. And so we provide that information.
ELLIOTT: The paper runs a disclaimer. Not every arrest leads to a conviction, it says. All suspects are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. That doesn't make Mario Montemayor feel any better.
MARIO MONTEMAYOR: I'm right here.
ELLIOTT: He's just 17 years old, but was charged as an adult for allegedly buying OxyContin from an undercover cop with the intent to sell the pills.
I felt embarrassed because everyone was seeing all my charges and everything. Some things need to be private.
He says all his friends pick up The Slammer at gas stations around town. They only cost a dollar. At a Raceway convenience store on a busy intersection in Little Rock, new copies of The Slammer sit out on the counter right by the cash register.
ALFRED WALKER: They're pretty popular. Yeah, we pretty much sell out almost every week.
ELLIOTT: Alfred Walker is the manager here.
WALKER: When it first came out, a lot of people didn't like The Slammer because they thought it was very negative. But now, a lot of people just want to buy it just to see who's in them.
ELLIOTT: Customer Shawn Rycraw owns a car-detail business in the neighborhood. He comes every Thursday, when the new papers are stocked.
SHAWN RYCRAW: I got a stack of them, like this, at the shop. Every week. I'm addicted to them.
ELLIOTT: This week, he's looking for a former employee.
RYCRAW: Let's find him. His name is Willie. Oh, right here. His mug shot look ugly. Yeah? Like, let me out.
ELLIOTT: Not everyone is such a fan of The Slammer.
RUSSELL CARPENTER: Oh no, no, no. I think it's like, exploiting criminality to me.
ELLIOTT: Russell Carpenter, of Little Rock, doesn't think the store should sell the papers.
CARPENTER: It doesn't serve any purpose, you know. It's just someone making a buck off of other people's miseries.
ELLIOTT: Right or wrong, the mug shot tabloids do appear to be profitable. Each week, Little Rock residents snap up some 7,000 copies of The Slammer. Debbie Elliott, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
RAZ: This story is part of Southword, a multimedia collaboration between NPR and Oxford American Magazine. To see a video about mug shot newspapers, go to NPR.org.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.